By Nick Shepkowski–

CHICAGO (WSCR) — Close games have not gone the White Sox way early in 2011, losing both one-run contests they’ve been in this year after falling 2-1 to the Oakland Athletics on Monday night. Wasted was a great outing by Mark Buehrle who went 8 scoreless innings and allowed only three base runners. One can argue that Buehrle should have been left in the game but the bigger problem sits in the White Sox closer.

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Luck has been tough on Matt Thornton after Juan Pierre’s second ninth inning error in four days last night, but make no mistake about it; Thornton isn’t doing his part, either.

A quick look at Matt Thornton through four appearances this year shows an ERA of 2.45, plenty respectable in itself. A further glance shows an 0-1 record with three blown saves in as many chances. Even more concerning is the fact he has struck out only 2 of 21 batters faced this year, a rate of one every 10.5 batters faced, a number that is way down from the 1 SO per 3.97 batters faced in his career.

As you may have guessed, the lower strikeout totals have amounted in more base runners for opposing teams. In four appearances this season Thornton’s WHIP (Walks+Hits per Inning) sits at 2.727. By comparison the veteran lefty has managed a WHIP of just 1.171 in his first five seasons as a Chicago White Sox.

It seems obvious at this point that the “thing” baseball people often refer to with closers just hasn’t been there with Matt Thornton. Perhaps it comes with time and opportunities but it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a great setup man fail as a closer in this town as bad memories of LaTroy Hawkins still sit in Cubs fans heads. 

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People can sit back and blame Juan Pierre for two ninth inning defensive lapses in the past week, but there is no arguing the fact that Thornton has failed to pitch over mistakes. A lot of that is probably because he is still yet to develop a second pitch, as his changeup and slider have both yielded very poor results.

Correct me if I’m wrong but did Adam LaRoche not start the ninth inning by smoking a double to the left field gap? It shouldn’t have come as much surprise to White Sox fans who have seen three of four leadoff men Thornton has faced reach base this season. Had Paul Konerko not made an outstanding play on Coco Crisp a batter later the game would have been tied before an out was recorded, and it wasn’t Juan Pierre who fell behind 2-0 to Daric Barton before the fateful dropped fly-ball in left.

The season is young enough for the White Sox to make an effect change in the closer role and still be regarded as a legitimate contender to win the American League pennant. You have to look no further than Shingo Takatsu in 2005 for a closer who lost his job on a team that wound up winning a World Series. 

You can argue that it might crush Thornton’s confidence to remove him from the closer role, but what is being gained by him getting beat around the park each night in the ninth? If Chris Sale is the pitcher he is supposed to be then his move to closer should come sooner than later. 

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Wins in April are just as valuable as those in August and September, and it’d be pretty difficult to be as bad as what we’ve seen in the ninth.