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.

Jose Abreu helps White Sox rally to tie record for April wins

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Associated Press

Jose Abreu helps White Sox rally to tie record for April wins

BALTIMORE -- The White Sox closed a record-tying April in the most appropriate of ways -- with another heavy dose of late-inning magic.

Jose Abreu made up for a costly error with two late RBIs, including singling in the go-ahead run in the ninth, and the White Sox tied a team record for April victories with an 8-7 win over the Baltimore Orioles in front of 29,152 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Playing without manager Robin Ventura, who was ejected after a controversial review in the fourth, the White Sox scored five times in the final three innings to rally for win No. 17. They finished the season’s opening month with a 17-8 mark to tie the 2000, 2005 and 2006 clubs for most April victories.

“I’ll put a lot of money with Jose at the plate with runners in scoring position,” Adam Eaton said. “We got the job done. Good team win. Not really how we drew it up, but it shows character with the team for sure. Battling back, each delivering punches and for us to get the last punch in there … Huge night for us.”

It was in particular a big showing for Abreu, who entered the game with a .220 average and 11 RBIs, his fewest in April in three seasons. The occasion became even bigger after Abreu’s fielding error in the eighth -- one of two by the White Sox -- extended the inning for Matt Albers.

With the White Sox leading 7-5, Abreu couldn’t handle a nice throw by Todd Frazier with two outs in the eighth and Manny Machado reached. Albers -- whose scoreless streak was snapped after 33 1/3 innings -- hit Adam Jones with the next pitch and Chris Davis followed with a game-tying, two-run double off Zach Duke.

But a team that has scored 49 of its 95 runs (51.6 percent) from the seventh inning came through again.

Eaton started the winning rally with a bunt single off Orioles closer Zach Britton, who exited the game as he injured himself retrieving the ball. Carlos Sanchez then walked against reliever Vance Worley to set up Abreu, who also singled in the tying run in an eighth-inning rally. Abreu drove an 0-1 cutter from Worley to right and Eaton slid in to home ahead of the throw from Joey Rickard. Nate Jones, who got the final out in the eighth, retired the side in order in the ninth to close it out.

The White Sox also rallied back from a pair of earlier deficits, long after Orioles starter Kevin Gausman departed.

Brett Lawrie, who had a solo homer in the third, walked and stole second base in the seventh and Austin Jackson singled after a 10-pitch battle with Mychal Givens to get the White Sox within 5-4.

The White Sox scored three runs off Darren O’Day, who hadn’t allowed a run all season. Sanchez had a pinch-hit double to open the eighth inning and scored on Abreu’s tying RBI single to right. Frazier blasted a 411-foot homer -- his seventh -- to center to put the White Sox up 7-5. The team’s 49 runs from the seventh inning on are the most in the American League. The White Sox, who finished with 10 hits, also have six comeback wins.

“It seemed like everybody picked everybody up tonight,” Frazier said. “It’s just a good character builder here.”

The offense came through for starter Mat Latos, who had his worst start of the season. The Orioles tried often to go the opposite way against Latos and it worked to the tune of four runs and 11 hits.

Baltimore had at least two hits in four of the five innings that Latos worked, including solo homers by Pedro Alvarez and Jonathan Schoop to tie it at 3 in the fourth.  

Latos allowed two hits to start the third, but was spared more damage when Adam Jones grounded into a controversial 5-4 double play that resulted in the 12th ejection of Ventura’s career.

Machado, who had singled ahead of Jones, slid late into second base and made contact with the leg of Lawrie, who never threw to first. Ventura asked for a review as Machado appeared to be in violation of the new slide rule. After a stoppage of at least six minutes, review officials determined that Machado didn’t interfere on the play and Jones was safe at first. Ventura immediately argued the call and loss of challenge with crew chief Gerry Davis, who ejected him.

But Latos pitched around it. He stranded two more runners on in the fourth to keep the score tied, but Baltimore pulled ahead in the fifth as Latos walked Matt Wieters and Alvarez doubled deep to center to make it 4-3.

Latos saw his ERA increase to 1.84 from 0.74.

“I was fortunate,” Latos said. “The offense showed up and put up a bunch of runs on the board and the defense showed up and we were able to get away with a really good win, a hard fought win.”

Ventura is pleased with how his team has handled its early success. Even though the White Sox have proven to be a fiery team in the dugout, Ventura thinks his veteran core has helped them keep a level head. While he’s pleased with the team’s April, he doesn’t think White Sox players will get ahead of themselves.

“They're looking for Sunday,” Ventura said. “They're excited about the win, no doubt, the way they're playing. But very good group about focusing on what's at hand and not looking in the rear view mirror.”

Today on CSN: Sale, White Sox close series with O's

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Associated Press

Today on CSN: Sale, White Sox close series with O's

The White Sox take on the Baltimore Orioles this afternoon, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at noon. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (5-0, 1.66) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (1-2, 3.91)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Promotion affords White Sox Tommy Kahnle refresher course

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Promotion affords White Sox Tommy Kahnle refresher course

BALTIMORE -- It may only be a brief stopover, but Tommy Kahnle hopes to get the most out of his current tour with the White Sox.

Called up Thursday, the White Sox reliever could be sent back to Triple-A Charlotte as early as Sunday morning as closer David Robertson is expected to come off the bereavement list.

But Kahnle -- acquired from the Colorado Rockies in November -- not only has had a chance to show the White Sox what he has, he also is getting a quick refresher course from pitching coach Don Cooper. Cooper has worked with Kahnle to stand more upright in his delivery in hopes it will help him throw more strikes.

“It’s just stay tall on my backside because I tend to collapse a little bit and get a little erratic,” Kahnle said. “But overall, make a few adjustments and should be back on track.

“I had a few hiccups in spring and early in the season down in Triple-A. But overall I’ve been throwing well and just got to work on a few things and get better.

“Just get better and try to throw strikes. That’s always been my downfall.”

Kahnle made his 91st career appearance on Friday night. He walked two in a scoreless inning in a 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. Kahnle has always had a big arm, striking out 102 in 103 innings. But he also has walked 61 batters.

Cooper likes the chance to get some in-season maintenance with any of his pitchers.

“Sure it is because you get a look at what’s going on up here,” Cooper said. “We’re trying to get him to stay tall … that’s a work in progress. It looks like he’s a little better with the slide step.”

Kahnle would like to help out a deep bullpen again before the season is out.

Robertson left the team after he pitched a scoreless inning to close out Wednesday’s victory in Toronto to attend his father-in-law’s funeral. Daniel Webb joined the team on Wednesday and struck out three in a scoreless inning on Thursday. But Webb went on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow flexor inflammation and Kahnle got the call.

“Even if it’s just a few days, it’s good to be back up here and show them what I’ve got and if they need me again I’ll be ready,” Kahnle said.