Jays’ Santos returns after ‘humbling’ demotion

Sergio Santos (Peter Power/CP)

Back on the Toronto Blue Jays’ roster after a ‘four-week refresher’ pitching for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons, Sergio Santos says his stint in the minor leagues allowed him to re-gain his aggressiveness on the mound.

Santos pitched 11 scoreless outings with the Bisons, striking out 16 in 10.2 innings while allowing just three hits and six walks. Eventually, he convinced Blue Jays decision makers that he can help at the big league level despite his struggles earlier in the year.

“I knew the better I threw, the more pressure I could put on the team as far as coming back up,” Santos said. “I just wanted to go out there and throw the way I’m capable of. That was just basically my focus. My focus was to this day, to come back and be here.”

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The Blue Jays optioned right-handed reliever Kyle Drabek back to Buffalo in a related move to create room on the active roster for Santos.

The Blue Jays designated Santos for assignment on July 21 after an up and down stretch in which he posted a 7.78 ERA in 24 games for Toronto.  Two days later he cleared waivers, when rival MLB teams decided against placing a claim on the talented but at times erratic right-hander with the $3.75 million salary.

In the span of five months, Santos has been Toronto’s closer, spent time on the disabled list, lost his roster spot and dominated triple-A hitters. He describes the entire process as “extremely humbling.”

“Just a whirlwind. It’s been a fun experience,” he said. “A humbling experience, you name it. That’s the way baseball is. I learned that early on. Anything can happen in this game, and pretty much anything has happened to me this year. You just take it in stride.”

While at the minor-league level, Santos pitched roughly once every two days, relying on his fastball and slider with plenty of change-ups mixed in. By pitching aggressively, he limited the command issues that saw him walk 17 batters in 19.2 innings before his demotion.

“I think the most important thing was getting ahead of hitters with a first strike,” he said. “Keeping them on their heels was the plan.”

While it’s not yet clear how Santos will be used, he’ll presumably have to re-establish himself before becoming as a trusted late-inning option for manager John Gibbons.

“I’m sure I’ve got to work my way back somehow, which I’m OK with,” Santos said. “I know if I throw the ball well and I keep throwing the ball well, then there’ll be a role for me somewhere.”

Gibbons’ bullpen now ranks 26th in baseball with an ERA of 4.20, so the club could certainly use a rebound performance from Santos. With the Blue Jays on the fringes of the pennant race and Santos potentially months away from hitting free agency, it’s a crucial month for both team and player.

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