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Hector Santiago is surviving, but in need of seasoning

Hector Santiago
Hector Santiago

Jesse Crain will be back on the 25-man roster at some point this week. Original speculation called Monday the day, but given that he was coming off an oblique strain and had thrown twice in three days, the Sox probably didn't think there was much point bringing him back when they wouldn't want him to pitch.

With Chris Sale back in the rotation, all signs point to Eric Stults as the most expendable Sox pitcher. If he's not asked to throw six innings, then he's just a guy.

But if the Sox were less interested in shifting organizational players and more interested in who would get the most out of a demotion, it certainly seems like Hector Santiago could use some further refinement.

Out of the 20 pitches Santiago threw in his scary scoreless inning on Monday, 19 were fastballs. The other pitch was a slider, and when you look at his release point and pitch plot, it neither started nor ended well.

Still, Santiago showed more diversity with his pitch selection compared to his previous outing against Kansas City, when all 12 pitches were fastballs. In his current form, he's ditched his supposed bread-and-butter pitch (the screwball) entirely, and he flashes the sweeping slider once every three batters or so. His inability to get ahead of hitters certainly hampers his confidence in getting creative.

As 3E8 put it in the gamethread, "Santiago is a pitching machine set to top speed that could use calibration." Somehow, he's strung together three scoreless outings despite the lack of variety, which is a testament to something -- the power of above-average heat from the left side, some semblance of resiliency, or just randomness.

In any case, it seems shortsighted to hope Santiago can get by riding a fastball for an inning. At least on this team, because they don't score enough (or give up enough runs) to create a lot of low-leverage learning environments. Robin Ventura isn't saving him for garbage time, either. In his 13 appearances, only once has Santiago entered a game with the Sox trailing. The margin? One run.

So game to game, the stakes are pretty high. Then add the fact that he's also pitching for his big-league life, and it creates an environment that isn't conducive to working on a pitch. It's really easy to slip into survival mode when one or two bad games could mean a ticket back to Charlotte.

But if Santiago can't find situations to throw other pitches, then Charlotte may be what's best for him. He's only 24, and he's never pitched at Triple-A. Plus, he's far more versatile than he's shown -- he has a breaking ball for both righties and lefties, and the Sox could justify stretching him out for the rotation, too.

This is all hypothetical at this point. A demotion is far from imminent given the faith Ventura has shown in him. Plus, Crain's return should help him out, because it'll knock him down a peg (in the good way), and perhaps free him up for some mop-up duty, which would allow him to use all his pitches when he'd want to throw them. It's similar to using an abandoned building for fire simulations -- worst-case scenario, an unusable structure just looks more like rubble, but maybe he'll come out of the mess knowing how to better use his tools when it actually matters.


One more pitching note

During Philip Humber's disaster two starts ago, his lack of swing-and-miss stuff was a popular talking point among media types on Twitter. Rightfully so, since he only got two whiffs out of 62 pitches.

Nobody must have floated the number out there on Monday, because John Danks' pitch data is even more troublesome in this regard. He threw 80 pitches, with one swinging strike to show for it. It's worth a deeper look when his season stats are updated with Monday's ... offerings .. but his lack of swinging strikes is a good place to start.

It's affecting the big picture in a big way. Throw out Opening Day, and over his last seven starts (41 1/3 innings), Danks has walked more batters (22) than he's struck out (20).

Worse yet, he seems to be getting further away from his old form with every start. His May peripherals are frightening -- 17 innings, seven walks, two strikeouts. He's not fooling anybody on any level.