HOUSTON - It sure looked like an audition for Hector Santiago, and it sort of felt like one, too.
While manager Robin Ventura holds off on naming his closer until possibly Opening Day - we might not know until the first save situation, he said - Santiago was the guy who pitched the ninth in the White Sox' 5-1 exhibition victory against the Astros on Tuesday night.
Santiago, who had been scored on in one appearance this spring, was far from sharp, giving up an infield single, a walk and a hard single to load the bases with one out before Travis Buck lined one to Santiago's glove side.
Santiago caught it, looked around and threw to first to double off Brian Bogusevic to preserve the Sox win. With a four-run lead, it was not a save situation.
"Saw it all the way in,'' a relieved Santiago said, smiling.
Santiago, a rookie lefthander with five innings of major league experience, was not told he was pitching the ninth.
"Nothing,'' he said. "I was just like, 'go out there and attack the zone, let them hit it and hopefully get them 1-2-3. "I had no idea, I guess it's just how it played out.''
Nate Jones (fifth inning), Addison Reed (sixth) Jesse Crain (seventh), Matt Thornton (eighth) all pitched scoreless innings before Santiago.
Trotting in from the left-field bullpen, it had to cross Santiago's mind that he might be manager Robin Ventura's top pick to finish games.
"Maybe a little bit, the way it plays out, maybe into the closer role but honestly I have no idea,'' the Newark, N.J., native said. "They called down and whenever they call my name I'm ready to go.
"Yeah, as I was running in I thought of that a little more, when I warmed up I didn't think about it. When I was running in I had an idea, ninth inning and it was a lot louder than spring. I just tried to tunnel vision it, block everything out and go after guys.''
Asked before the game what his No. 1 criteria for a closer will be, Ventura said the ability to throw strikes.
Ventura said "there's a mentality" to the job and "guys who are going to get behind and walk guys have more trouble than guys who can pound the zone.''