KANSAS CITY -- Hector Santiago is only 12 starts into his major league career.
And while he never wants to stop learning, this particular stage of development may be more critical than most.
Friday’s lesson, one accompanied by a handsome result when Santiago allowed one run and three hits over a career-high eight innings, is that throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count works.
[More: "Exorcising some kind of curse," White Sox blast Royals]
Whereas Santiago has spent many pitches over some of his previous efforts in an attempt to strike out hitters, he has started to grasp the concept that efficiency is a good thing. Santiago said he planned to fill up the strike zone on Friday and accomplished his goal.
“It motivates you,” Santiago said. “It shows you getting ahead in the count is better. When I fell behind they got a hit, it’s easier for them. But when you’re ahead it’s like ‘What’s he going to throw?’ Especially when you have five pitches.”
Santiago has begun to develop his starter’s mentality. When he moved into the rotation late in the 2012 season, Santiago approached his starts with a one-inning-at-a-time approach. Now he gets the value of a quick inning and on Friday he said he went to catcher Tyler Flowers with a different idea. He wanted to mix up the game plan in hopes of getting earlier swings -- and it worked.
On Friday, he needed 106 pitches to get through eight innings.
“It shows you that filling up the strike zone works,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “When you walk guys and are erratic you put yourself in a bind. … Filling up the strike zone, let your defense work, it worked pretty good last night.”
What the White Sox have learned is they have a pretty special pitcher on their hands. Santiago has handled everything thrown his way, whether it’s taking over as closer, rolling with a demotion to long relief and now starting. Santiago has a wealth of experience to rely upon and a boatload of talent to accompany it. His presence gives the White Sox another potentially good starter and gives general manager Rick Hahn some flexibility if he wishes to trade a starting pitcher like Jake Peavy before the trade deadline.
“He has that ability to do anything you want so that has helped him in game situations as a starter,” Ventura said. “There is a lot of stuff that has happened to him already that he can draw from.”
[More: Lindstrom prepared for trade speculation to begin]
Just because his book on experiences is teeming with information doesn’t mean Santiago plans to stop gaining knowledge. He knows there’s plenty for him to grasp as he continues his journey of becoming a more complete pitcher.
“You never stop learning,” Santiago said. “Every day, even little stuff that Peavy or (Chris) Sale, just something that somebody says, you pick up: ‘That’s true. I can do that too. It’s a good pitch or a good plan.’ But I feel like you can go out every day and can get better.”
For the first time since he returned to the team on June 3, Gordon Beckham isn’t in the lineup. Ventura said he wants to give Beckham a day off and it has nothing to do with his performance. Beckham is 19-for-64 with five doubles and two RBIs since he returned.
[More: As miscues mount, Ramirez aims to stay focused]
Beckham said earlier this week his left hand is playable but he still has experienced some soreness as he continues to recover from hamate bone surgery. The bigger factor, Beckham said, is his body was getting acclimated to playing every day after seven weeks off.
“The way his hand is, we can get him a day here, play a game, day off, play two, give him another day off,” Ventura said. “You’re (not) sitting him for performance stuff or anything like that, it’s just a day.”
Jeff Keppinger started in Beckham’s stead and hit eighth.
On the farm
The White Sox promoted right-handed pitcher Erik Johnson from Double-A Birmingham to Triple-A Charlotte. Johnson, a second-round pick from Stanford in 2011, went 8-2 with a 2.23 ERA at Birmingham before his promotion with three complete games and 74 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings.
First-round pick Tim Anderson went 2-for-5 with two RBIs and three runs scored in his second professional game for Single-A Kannapolis.