The White Sox entered the top of the ninth inning with a three-run lead. Seems like a pretty comfortable spot to give the struggling Hector Santiago a save, right?
So Matt Thornton got the chance, retiring the Red Sox in order to nail down his first save of the season. But that doesn't mean Santiago has been booted from the ninth inning, according to Robin Ventura.
"It is nothing against Hector, he still will be in there in the ninth, but you're looking at guy with a body of work against those three guys," Ventura said after the game. "I felt confident leaving Matt in there."
Maybe, though, Ventura's going to start picking his spots with Santiago. His command isn't where it needs to be, as evidenced by his pitch location plot (via Texas Leaguers):
For reference, compare that to Thornton's plot:
The big difference here is that, when Thornton misses up, he misses up and out of the strike zone. He has a quicker fastball than Santiago by about 1 mile per hour, so he will generate more swings and misses on those pitches. But a near-94 mph average fastball is nothing to sneeze at -- if it's up and out of the strike zone.
But Santiago is missing up and out over the plate with his fastball. Even with a velocity in the mid-90's, that's a hittable pitch in the majors.
Santiago hadn't thrown an inning in relief above the Single-A level until last summer, when he was bumped to the majors for a few mop-up appearances. Control isn't his problem -- he's getting a ton of strikeouts with a sparkling walk rate -- but it's command in the strike zone. That's not up to par right now, and that's why he's blown two saves and allowed four home runs.
The talent is there for Santiago's command to come along. But maybe there's something to Santiago still figuring out how to pitch in relief at the major-league level, where he can't just blow hitters away with his stuff like he could in Winston-Salem.
So back to the issue here -- maybe we'll see Ventura start picking his spots with Santiago and Thornton, giving Santiago favorable matchups in which he can work to get his command to where it needs to be. Sunday wasn't one of those situations, so that's why we saw Thornton.