Santiago began the season as White Sox manager Robin Ventura’s choice as closer out of spring training. Santiago lasted a month in that role after blowing two saves and having his ERA blow up to 8.53 after seven appearances.
From there, Ventura experimented with him in every which way as a reliever. Santiago has been called in from the bullpen to face as few as one batter and as many as four innings worth of them.
On Monday, Santiago was asked to pitch in another role -- starter. Santiago made his first major-league start, allowing three hits, one run and three walks while striking out six in five innings to help the White Sox snap a four-game losing streak by defeating the Minnesota Twins 4-2 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Coming off a road trip where the White Sox dropped six of seven games and were swept by the Detroit Tigers, Santiago understood what was at stake on Monday.
“I knew what today meant,” said Santiago, who improved to 3-1 and lowered his ERA to 3.71. “I knew it was a big game especially after we lost the game (Sunday.) I knew I had to come out here, be ready and give us a chance to win.”
Santiago’s night began dicey with a leadoff double by Ben Revere and a walk by No. 3 hitter Joe Mauer in the first inning, but he escaped the inning with back-to-back outs and soon found his groove. He allowed just one more hit over the next three innings and his lone run came when Jamey Carroll hit a home run off him in the fifth inning.
“I seriously had all five pitches tonight,” Santiago said. “In the beginning (of the season), I had one, maybe two pitches. Going long and getting out there more, I’ve been able to work on my stuff and have all my stuff. Today, I had fastball command, changeup for strikes, slider, cutter was pretty good, my screwball I threw 4-5 times and all for strikes.”
While the season has been one of uncertainty for Santiago, he’s still found ways to enjoy it. Even thinking back to when he was demoted as the team’s closer, he took something away from that.
“I learned a lot,” Santiago said. “That was a huge learning experience. I learned you couldn’t make mistakes, especially in the ninth inning. That was something I did a lot. Every time I gave up a home run or blew the lead, it was a mistake. Learning from there, trying to concentrate and focus more to make the better pitches, and that’s what I’ve been doing as of late.
“It’s been fun (pitching all the roles.) You never know what you’re going to do. One day, you’re closing. The next day, you’re long relief. The next day, you come in against a lefty. The next day, you’re starting.”
Ventura has to come to realize Santiago will do whatever gives the team a chance to win.
“He has the mentality really to do anything,” Ventura said. “He just wants to pitch. He’s kind of one of those who can switch around and do a lot of things. He’s a competitor. He’d want to play left field if you let him.”