Santiago continues to prove he belongs in White Sox rotation

Santiago continues to prove he belongs in White Sox rotation
August 18, 2013, 4:00 pm
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Hector Santiago has only added to a pile of evidence suggesting he belongs in the White Sox rotation over his last two starts.

Even as the innings have begun to mount and the pitch count has soared, Santiago has found a way to deliver. Whether he pitched well earlier in the week only 24 hours after he had a root canal or when he worked out of two late jams on Sunday, Santiago has shown some mettle.

The White Sox rewarded the left-hander for his guile as Alexei Ramirez homered and had three RBIs and Avisail Garcia doubled twice in a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins. Santiago won for the first time since June 21 (10 starts) even though he allowed 11 men to reach base over six innings.

[More: Root canal doesn't slow Santiago]

“I felt like I was having a root canal during most of it,” manager Robin Ventura said with a laugh. “That’s kind of the way he pitches. Over the course of the season, he finds a way to get into a little bit of trouble and get out of it. It’s a good thing to have.”

Santiago looked like he might not qualify for the victory when he loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning and the White Sox ahead 5-2.

But after a walk and two singles to the middle of the order, Santiago powered his way out of trouble.

Even though his pitch count had already reached 96, Santiago delivered his best stuff. He got ahead of Trevor Plouffe with two quick strikes and threw a pair of 95-mph sinkers, the latter of which the batter popped up into the waiting glove of Paul Konerko.

Santiago, who had only thrown two pitches that registered 95 mph before the inning, followed with more heat. He mixed an 80-mph curveball in with sinkers of 95, 95, 96 and 95 to Oswaldo Arcia, the last of which resulted in a foul pop out to third.

[More: Reed not concerned by velocity drop]

“I don’t think the whole game I kind of reared back and let anything go until that situation right there,” Santiago said. “(Before) I was kind of trying to get by with making pitches instead of trying to blow people away. But there … I reared back a little bit and got some pitches that had some movement and ran into guys and got two soft fly balls to get out of it.”

Santiago, who made his 18th start of the season and 22 nd of his career, allowed a leadoff double in the sixth but retired the final three batters he faced, including All-Star Joe Mauer on a grounder.

His 117th and final pitch was measured at 94 mph.

A former reliever himself, two-time All-Star Chris Sale is impressed with how Santiago has balanced the transition from bullpen to starter.

As Sale notes, it isn’t easy to go from the “grip-it-and-rip-it” lifestyle of a reliever to pacing yourself and making sure you have something to throw late in the game.

Santiago has learned and Sale thinks his teammate knows when and where to unleash the competitor within.

“Him just being a competitor as well, that adrenaline kicks in a little bit, too,” Sale said. “A mixture of that and him. That’s crunch time. That’s a big out right there. Knowing who he is and how he pitches, even if you don’t have anything in the tank, you’re still going to find something for that at-bat. … I think he’s doing an unbelievable job this far and it’s been fun to watch.”

Fun to watch unless of course you’re Santiago’s manager, who knows he needed to extend his starter because of an overworked bullpen.

Santiago, who allowed two runs (one earned), nine hits and walked two, also stranded two men in the first and fourth innings. He lowered his ERA as a starter to 3.16 in 105 1/3 innings this season.

While it may be stressful, Ventura is used to it by now.

“He’s done this over the course of the year and finds a way to get through it,” Ventura said. “We were a little limited today. We didn’t have (Nate) Jones really available today, so we extended Hector a little bit. … He was able to get through that.