Sox Drawer: The Santiago screwball

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Sox Drawer: The Santiago screwball

For five years, Hector Santiago toiled in the White Sox farm system making a slow, gradual climb from Bristol to Kannapolis to Winston-Salem to Birmingham. Selected by the White Sox in the 30th round of the 2006 draft, he was concerned that he had reached his ceiling in the organization. He was good, not great. Translation: nothing special. Where will that get you? Usually not the majors. More often baseball's graveyard, where thousands of careers eventually go to die.

Santiago saw his baseball future and was concerned it would soon be on life support. So at the start of the 2011 season, he did something about it.

"I had nothing to lose," Santiago said in an interview inside the visiting clubhouse in Texas. "I was going into my fifth season as a minor league player and I was like, 'Let's try to get something in my arsenal that can make me better, get me noticed a little more and stand out.'"

The solution for Santiago was to learn how to throw a screwball, a deceptive and difficult pitch to master which breaks in the opposite direction of a curveball. Thrown by a lefty like Santiago, it goes from right to left, moving down and in on a left-handed batter, and down and away to a right-hander. Thrown properly, the ball can move as much as two feet.

Christy Mathewson was the first prominent pitcher to use the screwball in the early 1900's. Carl Hubbell threw it in the 1934 All-Star Game when he famously struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.

Fernando Venezuela and Tug McGraw later made careers hurling the screwball. However, in the last 25 years, it's almost become a dinosaur -- pretty much extinct from the game.

Why?

Because the hand and arm movement is so unnatural, you can permanently damage your arm and elbow.

"I have a couple friends that are left-handed, but they won't get into it," Santiago said. "They're afraid of injury."

But not Santiago. He's willing to take the chance. That baseball cemetery is a few miles away. At 24-years-old, he's willing to risk it and so far he's succeeding.

In spring training, he was nothing short of dominant, giving up one run over 11 innings while striking out 13. Opposing batters routinely went back to the dugout shaking their heads in disbelief, losing Santiago's game of "Now You See it, Now You Don't."

"I guess it's been so effective because it's not really seen anymore," Santiago said. "It's something hitters haven't seen and I actually throw it for a strike, and can bury it when I want to. It's coming from the left side, and it's actually almost like a right-handed pitch."

When the White Sox arrived in Texas to start the regular season, there were rumblings that Santiago had won the job as closer, but manager Robin Ventura didn't want to announce it and put added pressure on the young rookie. Saturday night against the defending A-L Champion Rangers, the suspense came to a dramatic conclusion when Santiago entered the game in the bottom of the ninth, nursing a 4-3 lead, and pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning for his first career save.

"This is a huge opportunity," he said after the game. "I'll do everything in my power I can to stay in this role, and succeed."

But as history proves, throwing a screwball has an expiration date, and hopefully a lot longer than a carton of milk.

"I try not to think about it," Santiago said of the injury potential. "I go in the weight room and I get my shoulder program done and try to do all the extra stuff to maintain and be able to keep doing it without getting injured. Just try to do a little extra when you have to just to prevent that."

If Santiago can stay healthy, and he continues to baffle hitters, suddenly the White Sox have quite a weapon in the back of their bullpen.

And that career that once seemed headed for a baseball obituary, will be given a brand new life.

Today on CSN: White Sox face Athletics in spring training game

Today on CSN: White Sox face Athletics in spring training game

The White Sox will battle the Oakland Athletics today, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 3:05 p.m.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Carlos Rodon vs. Kendall Graveman

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White Sox ace Jose Quintana puts on a show in victory over Reds

White Sox ace Jose Quintana puts on a show in victory over Reds

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Those pesky, persistent trade rumors continue to be no match for White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana. 

The 2016 All-Star was outstanding on Thursday afternoon as he made his first Cactus League appearance in nearly a month. Still waiting on word if he'll be the team's Opening Day starter, Quintana pitched seven scoreless innings against a thin Cincinnati Reds lineup in a 4-2 White Sox victory at Camelback Ranch. 

Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts, Quintana limited Cincinnati to two hits in a 79-pitch outing and struck out three.

"I just try to turn the page quick and keep going," Quintana said. "Never watch behind me and try to go ahead every time I can. I want to put my team in a good position to win games. It's good when you win games in spring training. It brings good energy for the season."

Quintana on Thursday followed the same format he did for Colombia against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Reds hitters he faced. Even after he surrendered a hit, Quintana got back to work. Featuring a fastball that sat between 91-93 mph early, Quintana had Cincinnati hitters off-balance all day. After he exited the game, Quintana sprinted to the right-field bullpen to throw 15 more pitches as he continues to build arm strength.

The outing is more of the same consistency the White Sox have come to expect from their trusted lefty. It's also why they refuse to remove the high sticker price attached to Quintana, who has competed at least 200 innings the past four seasons with a 3.32 overall ERA in that span.

As Opening Day approaches, the White Sox continue to listen to offers for Quintana but have refused to budge on their price. Manager Rick Renteria said on Wednesday he needed a few more days before naming his starter for the April 3 opener, which suggests the team would still trade Quintana at this late date. But unless one of the team's suitors finally antes up, it's hard to believe that anyone other than Quintana would take the mound against the Detroit Tigers when the 2017 season kicks off at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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Quintana is on target to pitch again Tuesday, though perhaps in a minor league game as the White Sox face Kansas City that day. His next turn would come on April 2, which would easily afford the team the chance to push him back one day. 

Giving Quintana the nod in the opener would be the latest honor bestowed upon him. Earlier this month, Quintana dominated the eventual WBC champion as he didn't allow a hit until there were two outs in the sixth inning. That performance came after an outstanding campaign in which Quintana finally appeared in an All-Star Game.

All of the above has Quintana feeling pretty good about his abilities. 

"I have confidence in me, and every time I go out there I just try to have fun and enjoy that time," Quintana said. "I spend good time with my teammates. Every time I go to the mound, I feel pretty good."

Nicky Delmonico homered and singled in a run in the victory for the White Sox. He drove in three runs and hit his third homer of the spring. Leury Garcia also had two hits and made a pair of nice defensive plays at second base.