ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Through the first two months of the season, Sergio Santos’ major-league climb from one-time struggling infielder to dominant relief pitcher has all the makings of a Disney movie.
The problem is that the White Sox right-hander isn’t done writing the script on 2010.
How it ends? That’s what the 26-year-old is wondering.
Santos is straddling a fine line. He’s been dominant through his first 18 appearances, allowing one run in 17 1/3 innings pitched for a filthy 0.52 ERA, but has been handled with kid’s gloves for the most part.
Santos not only wants the gloves off, but wants to see if he can stand up to the pressure of closing games.
“Yeah, I would be lying to say that I didn’t, but [current closer Bobby Jenks], he’s so established with what he’s done,” Santos said. “His track record speaks for itself. Then you have two other really good candidates that can shut games down – J.J. [Putz] has shown real success and I think [Matt] Thornton’s doing just an incredible job, so he can be given that same opportunity.
“If it was a different bullpen I think it would be different, but when you have so many guys in the backend of the bullpen that can close games, and I still think you have one of the best ones in the game in Bobby. He just needs to get into kind of a little groove and then do what he’s always done.”
Santos was then asked if he felt he was ready for the bull’s eye that comes with trying to get those last three outs of a game, and didn’t shy away.
“If it was presented to me then I would be looking forward to that challenge, absolutely,” he said. “And I won’t find out if I’m ready until I’m thrown into that situation. Until then I’m going to take every opportunity and every situation like I am closing the game, regardless of the score or what the situation is. In my mind, that’s the way to approach it, the best way to kind of get ready for it.”
According to a source, the Sox have been contacted about Jenks by several teams, but the conversations have gone no further than gauging availability. And yes, he is very available. In order for the Sox to maximize his value on the trade market, they have to show that his seven saves carry more weight than his 6.35 ERA.
In other words, would they like to see if Santos could be a closer of the future? Certainly, but not at the expense of discounting Jenks’ value on the market.
“If Bobby is not our closer, our bullpen is not as good as it can be,” manager Ozzie Guillen said of Jenks before leaving the team on Friday. “We have to keep him out there and make sure we can trust him and make sure he knows we believe he can do that.
“He will dictate how long he will be out there. I still have confidence in the kid. I think he’s still throwing the ball well. He’s just not getting it done.”
So for now, Santos – who has been pitching for just over a year – will have to wait. A wait that would be made a bit easier if he knew exactly what he’s waiting for, what his exact role was.
Asked if he’s been given any indication that he might get a chance to save a game, so be ready, he replied, “No not really, it’s kind of like … which kind of stinks, it’s more like from the sixth on you can go in at any time,” Santos said. “I’ve gone in the sixth inning when we’ve been in a close game, been up a lot, down by a lot, and then I’ve come in during the eighth inning when we’ve been up one or two or a tied ballgame, so that’s the hardest part about it, you would like to have a little bit of a gauge, kind of like, ‘Hey, you’re looking at these situations,’ or whatever, but at the end of the day I’m happy to be here pitching and whatever.
“It isn’t a big deal. From the fifth inning on I’ll be ready to pitch, and I stretch before every inning and get ready to do whatever I can.”