Hector Santiago couldn’t get a full-time spot in the White Sox starting rotation.
But after getting traded to the Angels and making his first All-Star team as a starting pitcher last month, he has nothing but thanks for the team that traded him away.
“Those guys, they gave me the opportunity to actually start,” Santiago said ahead of Monday’s series opener on the South Side. “I was in the closer role my first year, and they gave me the opportunity to become a starter. And they made it possible for me to come over here to the Angels and get a full-time job because they gave me 150 innings one year when I had 20-plus starts in a season. I never had a full-time (starting role), I didn't come out of spring with these guys as a starter, but they got my feet wet and they put me in the door so I could become a starter later on in my career. So thank those guys for that. They started me off getting into the rotation.”
The White Sox shipped Santiago to Los Angeles in a three-team deal that brought Adam Eaton to the South Side in December of 2013. He always wanted to be starter, though he started just 27 of the 78 games he pitched in during his three years with the White Sox. He’s made 21 starts so far this season for the Angels, an All-Star season in which he’s posted a 2.78 ERA in 129 1/3 innings.
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The lefty admitted that he’s excited to be back in Chicago and excited to pitch against his former team for the first time on Tuesday night, even if the White Sox heavy roster turnover the past few seasons means he won’t be facing many of his former teammates.
As for the former teammate his current teammates faced Monday night, Chris Sale, there wasn’t much help he could provide.
"I was just talking about that,” Santiago said. “'I can try to tell you kind of a gameplan or what he has, but obviously you guys know what he has.' It doesn't matter if I can tell them he's possibly this kind of pitcher, he's still hard to hit. His stuff is so good, and he mixes so well. He's a great pitcher, and he can be different on any other day. Some days his fastball might be 90, some days it's 98. I think all around he's such a good pitcher, he's hard to even give a scouting report on.”
Sale was a big part of Santiago’s All-Star experience in Cincinnati. The two former teammates spent the Midsummer Classic together, hanging out and reminiscing during the game.
“It was fun, I actually got to share it with Sale,” Santiago explained. “I was his first roommate in the minor leagues. So that was cool getting to know all the rest of the guys, but going there and having Sale there, kind of knowing somebody at the game on a day-to-day basis — I actually know Sale pretty well — that made it a little bit easier. We hung out the entire game from the first inning on. It was pretty good.
“We kind of went through all of it, what we did in the minor leagues and together in the big leagues. We sat the first two innings in the dugout, and then the last seven we were in the bullpen. … We just pretty much sat there. There was a lead or something, we weren’t going to get in the game. So we just hung out, just enjoyed it, took it in.”
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Santiago was part of baseball's youth movement that dominated this year’s All-Star Game, one of the 35 players age 27 or younger and one of the 28 making their first All-Star appearance.
It wasn’t too long ago that Santiago was just getting acclimated to the major leagues, not too long ago when he thought the All-Star Game was some far-off, unattainable thing. But life can move fast, and he went from minor leaguer to All Star to the thick of a playoff race in what seems to him like the blink of an eye.
The Angels are rolling, in part thanks to Santiago. Is a World Series the next previously believed to be unattainable goal that Santiago will be living out?
“I was in the minor leagues for five years and you get called up because of an injury, and when a guy comes back you get sent back down. Then you kind of don’t know where you’re going to be at. Then you make the team with them, and you’re barely surviving as a long guy, maybe a starter, fill-in, and you kind of just go out there and do your job every day. You look forward to (the All-Star Game), you see your teammates go and kind of hope for the best and wish you were going,” Santiago said. “For me, the big leagues were really far away. Then the All-Star Game was way out of my reach. Winning a World Series is kind of like the top one, it’s way up there. Everything has it’s way.”