One decision has been made. Perhaps the more difficult one awaits manager Robin Ventura.
On Wednesday evening, Ventura announced left-handed pitcher John Danks as Friday’s starter against the Miami Marlins. Fully recovered from season-ending shoulder surgery, in 2012 Danks will return to the rotation more than one year after he made his last start in the majors.
The announcement is exciting for both Danks and the White Sox as both sides know nine months of hard work has begun to pay off. But while the franchise is celebrating the return of a pitcher it deemed worthy of a $65 million extension in Dec. 2011, Ventura also knows he has a tough choice ahead in picking between keeping Dylan Axelrod or Hector Santiago in the rotation.
“It’s tough, but that’s part of being in baseball,” Ventura said. “You got to do what’s best for us.”
What’s best for the White Sox isn’t so black and white.
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Axelrod isn’t flashy, but he has given the team nine consistent starts. He owns a 2-3 record with a 4.13 ERA in 52 1/3 innings.
Santiago has been very good as well. Fresh off a nine-strikeout performance against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, Santiago is 1-2 with a 2.96 ERA in five starts. He has struck out 31 batters in 27 1/3 innings.
Their performances have more than kept the White Sox afloat as they’ve worked through Danks’ need for more time and a season-ending injury to Gavin Floyd.
“Hector’s done a great job,” Axelrod said. “I feel like I’ve done a good job, like I have a lot of quality starts. I don’t know what they’ve said. We have a lot of depth and no matter what happens we’re going to have a good rotation. It’s a good problem to have.”
A five-pitch left-hander, Santiago clearly has the better stuff of the two candidates. But Axelrod, who is listed as Sunday’s starter against the Marlins, is a more polished product. Earlier this week, catcher Tyler Flowers said from a strategy standpoint, Axelrod is the best pitcher of all the White Sox starters.
The current opportunity has been more important for Axelrod because the right-hander doesn’t have the kind of stuff that jumps out at scouts. While he has previously had a chance to make a start here or there, Axelrod has always been a candidate on the cusp of being sent back to the minors when a healthier regular pitcher returns.
Axelrod has reveled in the chance given to him by the club.
“It has been great,” Axelrod said. “I’m in a rhythm. I just feel really comfortable. Preparation is there. I’m preparing for my next start.”
Although he believes he’s just as deserving to stay in the rotation, Santiago sounds as if he’s prepared to handle whatever news Ventura delivers.
“I’ve kept us in most of the games and have given us a chance to win,” Santiago said. “But Danks is coming back and if he was healthy in spring training he would have broke with the team and I would have been in the bullpen either way. I was just filling that role. We’ll see from here on out. They have to make a decision and I’ll be ready for anything.”