Santiago said he was told he could either pitch in relief against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday or start against the Minnesota Twins on Friday. He’s been used as a starter in his last two appearances and allowed six hits and one run in nine innings in those games.
“I like it better that way,” Santiago said of the uncertainty prior to Wednesday’s game. “I like knowing, ‘Okay, I could be tonight, if not, I could be going this day.’ I like that. It just makes you more excited, gives you more adrenaline for it.”
The 24-year-old Santiago would be a full-time starter if he had his way. Of all the pitching roles (closer, long relief, situational relief) he’s had this season, starting is what he enjoys most.
Santiago understands for him to be a successful starter he has to reduce his pitch counts. He threw 93 pitches in four innings on Sept. 9 and 91 pitches in five innings on Sept. 3.
“I need to throw more strikes,” said Santiago, who is 3-1 with four saves with a 3.45 ERA in 38 appearances and 57 1/3 innings this season. “The other day (against the Kansas City Royals) I walked the No. 9-hole hitter (Johnny Giavotella) twice. It was like I was too confident. I was just missing instead of going after him. Going back, I looked like two different pitchers.”
Santiago has felt he’s undergone an education in starting the past few weeks. He’s learned quickly what works and what doesn’t.
“Mixing it up (is the biggest difference),” Santiago said. “Just throwing all your pitches in all the counts. Because it’s a 2-0 count, you don’t want to just lay something in there. You want to be able to get through innings. You want to throw all your pitches in any count as a starter. As a reliever, you feel like you have that inning, so you have to attack the zone.”
While Santiago has been getting used to starting, he does still have to pinch himself that he’s been given the ball in a pennant race.
“At first, it was kind of shocking they would actually do it knowing I haven’t started all year,” Santiago said. “All of a sudden, they’re like giving you trust to put you out there. That’s huge. It makes you feel comfortable and confident in yourself because they trust you can do it.
“Just keep giving me a chances to keep going out there to get better and give us a chance to win. That’s the biggest part for me. If they’re going to keep giving it to me, I’m fine. I’m going to take it.”