Dylan Axelrod had already matched a highly paid ace pitch-for-pitch when the White Sox beat Felix Hernandez earlier this month. So while he lasted long enough for Paul Konerko to tie the game against Josh Johnson in the Sox's 4-3 victory over Toronto on Tuesday, Johnson is no Hernandez. I mean, he's only making $13.75 million this year.
No, the new twist was that Axelrod threw a quality start against a team that had seen him already. That's a first, and something of a milestone in his career. Crafty righties usually struggle to make it a second turn through the league, and Axelrod had struggled with every opponent against whom he made a second start.
And for Toronto, this was their third long look at him. He picked up his first career victory against them in September of 2011, but then got spanked on short rest before the All-Star break last year, with most of the same lineup that played tonight.
Axelrod executed his tail off for the most part, and it also helped that he threw a little harder, which gave him the ability to run some fastballs at the top of the strike zone and higher. According to Pitch f/x, here are the totals of 90+ mph pitches he's thrown in his three starts:
But perhaps this is all overthinking it, because there's another theory about Axelrod that holds true. Start him in an AL East park, and he's as good as anybody. Here's his complete history in that regard:
The possibility of completing the set won't arise until July at the earliest, as that's when the Sox travel to St. Petersburg for a three-game series. If he's in a position to start during that series, that means he's in great shape. Or it could mean another starter isn't. The first one sounds better.
Meanwhile, Hector Santiago continues to be nails out of the bullpen. He's rolling in double-scoreless style right now (0.00 ERA, 4-for-4 stranding runners), and after going five-up-five-down in relief of Axelrod, he's thrown eight consecutive hitless innings.
He's also adding a quantity component to the quality. He's thrown 1⅔ innings in each of the first two games, and that's a pretty rare feat. Over the last five years, only Zach Stewart, D.J. Carrasco (twice) and Octavio Dotel have thrown that many innings in consecutive days, and only Dotel did it in a significant leverage situation. Stewart and Carrasco were long men who were pressed into action in back-to-back days due to emergencies.
By being able to shoulder that load, Santiago has helped restore normalcy to the bullpen. Mark Gonzales says Jordan Danks is coming up to join the Sox today, and I'm guessing they'll demote Deunte Heath and return to a seven-man bullpen in order to create the space.
Three turns through the rotation, this might be what Robin Ventura had in mind when he opted to start Axelrod and put Santiago in the bullpen. Axelrod has pitched well enough for the Sox to win two of his three starts, and Santiago leads the bullpen in innings, and high-quality ones at that.
The only drawback -- the Sox are 1-4 in Santiago's incredibly effective appearances. Before he came into Tuesday's tie game, he hadn't pitched in a more favorable situation than the Sox trailing by two. He can't do anything about the lack of leads, but if and when the offense gives the pitching some runs to work with, hopefully Santiago will have a hand in making them hold up.
John Danks shouldn't be considered in any picture yet, but his rehab start on Monday yielded the most encouraging news in weeks:
The 28-year-old tossed six innings in an extended spring training game on Monday in Arizona and manager Robin Ventura was encouraged by the results.
Ventura said his velocity is getting better -- it was clocked as high as 89 mph his previous outing -- and that Danks is scheduled for another start on Saturday.
"He threw fine, it's a positive report," Ventura said. "People that have seen him are having positive reports. He's just feeling stronger and it's probably coming out of his hand a little better."