Ventura sets Sox's rotation order

Sometimes teams roll out their five best starters in that order, while sometimes it's a matter of setting a schedule that provides better balance.

Consider the Chicago White Sox as part of the latter strategy as manager Robin Ventura set his rotation for the start of the season by not only breaking up the three left-handers, but also making sure his most dependable starters aren't pitching back-to-back.

The White Sox appear poised to go with Chris Sale in Monday's opener, followed by Felipe Paulino, Jose Quintana, Erik Johnson and John Danks.

"You are breaking up the lefties but also the righties in there," Ventura told reporters in Arizona. "You feel solid with that. I think Johnny could be anywhere in there, right behind Chris. I feel good."

Pitching coach Don Cooper said early in camp that he liked the idea of separating Sale and Quintana, his most dependable starters, who both reached the 200-inning mark last season. With them separated, it has less of a chance of taxing the bullpen on consecutive days.

With the bullpen getting off to a slow start this spring, taking that group into consideration when it came time to make a rotation was key. Ronald Belisario was late to camp with visa issues, Daniel Webb missed time after a death in the family, Mitchell Boggs was released, and Nate Jones (strained gluteus muscle) and Matt Lindstrom (oblique) dealt with nagging injuries.

While Quintana has struggled much of the spring and Danks is still just 18 months removed from shoulder surgery, it was Paulino and Johnson who provided the most questions. Paulino hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2012 because of elbow and shoulder surgeries and Johnson only has five games of big-league experience.

"I think yesterday with Erik the way he went out there (Monday), he feels stronger about that," Ventura said. "Just watching him perform yesterday, I feel good about them."

Despite some of the rotation uncertainties, the White Sox aren't expected to carry a long man in the bullpen, at least at the start of the season. The best candidate for that role, right-hander Dylan Axelrod, has already been re-assigned to minor-league camp.

Axelrod fit that job best because the White Sox want to keep guys like Chris Beck, Andre Rienzo, Charlie Leesman and Eric Surkamp stretched out in the minor leagues in case they are needed to fill in on the major league roster.

The White Sox believe that much of Quintana's issues this spring were related to ongoing contract negotiations. He agreed to a five-year extension Monday with two team options that could take the deal to $48.5 million and the White Sox hope that will ease his mind.

Combined with the extension Sale agreed to last spring, the team's two best starters are locked in for at least the next four seasons. This club now hopes a guy like Johnson can join the core of dependable young starters and give the team that much more certainty moving forward.

After Danks pitches, the rotation returns back to Sale. While that puts two lefties back-to-back, the control-oriented, change-of-pace style of Danks varies enough from the hard-throwing, sweeping-slider style of Sale that the expectation is that teams shouldn't be able to settle into a comfort zone.

For Sale, it will be his second consecutive Opening Day start. Danks started the 2012 opener. Before that, Mark Buehrle opened nine of the 10 previous seasons on the mound.

Sale will be matched up against the Minnesota Twins' Ricky Nolasco for Monday's 3:10 p.m. scheduled contest at U.S. Cellular Field. Sale made just two starts against the Twins last season, going 1-1 with a 5.25 ERA. Over his career he is 4-1 against Minnesota with a 2.20 ERA.