If you’ve spent the 2013 season watching the White Sox from the third base side, you might have caught a glimpse of a season-long volley.
Hector Santiago has been going back-and-forth between the Sox bullpen and the starting rotation like a ping-pong ball, but regardless of the volatility of his job description, he’s handling it quite well.
Santiago made the constant switching look easy Sunday, when he shut down the Oakland Athletics in his first start since May 22. The lefty allowed just one earned run in 6 1/3 innings and picked up his second win of the year.
An injury to Jake Peavy forced Santiago’s latest move from the relief corps to the rotation and he’ll remain there for at least a month while Peavy recovers.
“I’m always ready for the opportunity to be able to do it,” Santiago said. “Coming into spring training, I knew it was kind of impossible with all the starters and all the guys that we have. But when stuff like this happens you just take advantage of it and roll with it. We’re all hoping for Peavy to come back as soon as possible, but for now I’ll enjoy the roll.”
The performance was especially impressive given that his most recent stay in the bullpen wasn’t terribly successful. He posted a 9.00 ERA over four appearances since his previous start, including one June 1 against these same A’s when he walked five and was hooked for his fourth loss of the year.
Sunday, after putting a few guys on base over the first two innings and allowing a third-inning homer to Coco Crisp, Santiago settled in nicely, retiring eight of the last nine hitters he faced.
“It started off rough, I guess,” Santiago said. “That’s kind of been the way I’ve gone about it the last couple starts, the first and second inning it’s like grinding and battle through it. And after that you just kind of settle in and go after guys and get guys to put the ball in play and get outs. Those first two innings, you’ve just got to grind them out and get into the middle of the game.”
Sox manager Robin Ventura knows what he has in Santiago. The value of such a versatile pitcher is so great that it kept Santiago on the roster when John Danks showed up as a reinforcement not long ago.
“He’s valuable. We’ve known he’s valuable,” Ventura said. “I think last year kind of seeing his transformation from closer to middle guy, lefty guy to starter, we realized Hector is valuable. And that’s the reason he wasn’t sent down when (Danks) came back. He’s a major league pitcher and you’ve got to figure out a way to use him. With Jake going down, he’s the guy that slides right in and takes over for him. And you feel good about it.”
Ventura credited Santiago’s energy for what the left-hander was able to do against Oakland.
“You’re playing a first-place team,” Ventura said. “It’s a tough team. We’ve had a hard time with them, even out in Oakland. They have a good lineup, they grind, they make you throw a lot of pitches. I think for him -- I would say ‘energetic’ is a good word -- he’s hyper out there. It’s one of those that they force you to throw more pitches probably than a lot of teams, and Hector was able to stay with it. It’s a credit to him. He’s excited to be out there, for one, but he’s a major league pitcher. He did a great job going through a tough lineup and giving us an opportunity to win. He gave the offense enough.”
The win was Santiago’s first since May 2, when he defeated the Texas Rangers in his first start of the year. He also tossed 107 pitches, the fourth time this season he’s reached triple digits with his pitch count.
Of course, Santiago said that he felt fine, even with the high pitch count, another example of him making this rotation-to-bullpen back-and-forth he’s engineering look all the more easy.
Does he know how he’s making it look?
“From the way it looks, I guess not that hard,” Santiago said. “I think I’ve just kind of adapted to it. I’ve been doing it my whole life: high school, college, everywhere. So I’ve kind of got used to the role.”