Grange on Blue Jays: The new Santos

Santos is 29-years old, married with three children and in his 11th professional season, but he's a very young pitcher.
March 6, 2013, 3:26 PM

The old Sergio Santos wouldn’t have said a word.

The old Sergio Santos would have been too busy working on his stroke in the cage or taking infield or doing base running drills or doing whatever else a struggling minor league shortstop needs to do before he paid attention to a little tenderness in his triceps.

The more recent version of the Toronto Blue Jays reliever — the one who was trying to prove himself to his new club this time last year after arriving via trade from the Chicago White Sox — might not have said anything either.

But the new Santos — Sergio 2.0 — is starting to get this pitching thing figured out. And so when he felt something twingy in his right triceps Sunday evening after throwing an inning against the Philadelphia Phillies that afternoon, he spoke up.

“It kind of came out of nowhere because I was feeling so great,” he said in Dunedin Wednesday. He was originally scheduled to pitch against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida, but was held back until Saturday for precautionary reasons.

“Luckily it’s just the muscle and nothing else. Hopefully we’ll give it my two days and then I’ll be back.”

“It didn’t bother me when I was throwing, not one bit. That’s what is so strange about it. It didn’t bother me until later that night.”

But that’s all the Blue Jays coaching and medical staff needed to hear to spring into action. A year ago Santos was having some discomfort in his shoulder and tried to pitch through by altering his delivery and otherwise pretending it would go away.

It didn’t and his first season with the club ended on April 20 after four sub-par appearances as the anointed closer. He had surgery in July and came to camp this year in peak form, with two pain free outings before Sunday.

The whole situation has been a learning experience for Santos, who was drafted in the first round as a shortstop by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002 and didn’t take up pitching until 2009 when the Chicago White Sox noted his inability to hit minor league breaking stuff — he had a .226 average in five AAA seasons — and suggested he might make better use of his rocket right arm as a reliever.

But the mindset required to pitch, where the line between being sore and being injured is thin as a thread, has taken some getting used to.

“As a shortstop I probably wouldn’t even pay attention to it,” he said of his current arm woes. “I’d still be playing, hitting doing everything, but it’s a learning process and what I’m trying to do now is learn from my past mistakes. … I’ll take my two days March 6th and 7th as opposed to April 15th and 16th. It’s good, I’m learning.”

There’s a lot to learn. Santos is 29-years old, married with three children and in his 11th professional season, but he’s a very young pitcher. He still sometimes thinks like a hitter who was good enough to win a home run derby in AA and accumulate 78 minor league round trippers.

He still finds that experience useful.

“That’s what I tell the pitchers — I tell them it’s hard to hit, throw your strikes and take the numbers that go with it,” he says.

He made it to the majors after a single season learning his craft in the minors for the White Sox in 2009. He made his major league debut in 2010 and over two seasons struck out 148 hitters in 115 innings, relying heavily on a fastball that touches the high 90s.

It’s that kind of stuff that the Jays are hopeful will allow him to form a potent partnership with Casey Janssen at the back end of the bullpen.

“To do what he’s been doing at this level is pretty impressive. It shows the athleticism that he has,” says Romero

Santos was a fellow Los Angeles area high school star growing up, his shortstop in AA in 2007 and a colleague on the Jays pitching staff now.

“If anything I tell him to slow down. He always wants to get going, he wants to throw as hard as he can. I told him he needs to pace himself,” said Romero. “It’s a long year. He’s in control, he doesn’t need to go 100 miles an hour. But he’s like that even playing catch. He always wants to go.”

But sometimes the best thing to do is stop. And this time that’s exactly what Santos did. He let pitching coach Pete Walker know his arm was bothering him and then did what he was told. Next thing he knew he was getting an MRI.

“If it was up to me I wouldn’t even have had an X-ray,” he said. “It was the powers that be that wanted it done and look, it took 40 minutes and put their minds at ease. I knew I could have picked up a ball and threw [Tuesday].”

“The progress it’s made day-to-day has been exciting. I know it’s nothing serious. … We’re just trying to learn from my mistakes last year. “

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