White Sox

From spot starter to All Star, Hector Santiago back on South Side

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From spot starter to All Star, Hector Santiago back on South Side

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.

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox Road Ahead: Needing the offense to step up]

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.”

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

Dylan Cease's ERA is still north of 5.75.

He's not a finished product, no matter how much anyone wants him to be one.

"It would be ideal for me — and my ability to sleep — and everyone’s mood if these guys came up and dominated immediately," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. "In reality there is a little bit of a learning process that goes on."

All these results, the ones that have contributed to that ugly ERA and some generally ugly outings over Cease's first couple months in the major leagues, are learning moments. Not convinced on the effectiveness of those learning moments? Just look to Lucas Giolito, who took all the struggles he had in 2018 and turned them into an All-Star 2019 season in which he's blossomed into the ace of the staff.

But, despite the hype, these guys aren't coming up finished products.

Cease, though, has flashed the potential that has earned him all that hype, and in no outing did he flash more of it than he did in Friday night's start against the visiting Texas Rangers.

Following the theme that seems to be developing in Cease starts, he had a pretty lousy inning early in the game, in this case the very first inning, in which he served up a three-run homer. The theme continues, though, that Cease usually uses all that composure and maturity everyone's always raving about to settle down and pitch a decent game. Friday night, he was more than decent. After the first inning, Cease retired the next 11 batters he faced and allowed just two hits (both singles) over five scoreless innings.

Cease, following in the tradition of perfectionist pitchers everywhere, hasn't been happy with previous outings that followed a similar script. This time, he was pleased. Maybe something to do with the career-best nine strikeouts.

"To me, that was just a huge confidence boost right there. Now I just need to not let those big innings happen," Cease said. "That's definitely my best start of the year today, besides that first inning."

"You had a couple of things going on," manager Rick Renteria said. "He had a rough first, we scored some runs, he holds them. We scored some more runs, he holds them. He kept doing that throughout. It's a big push. You see, there's a confidence-builder in that particular outing today. He should be happy how he ended up redirecting himself and righting the ship."

Cease's ability to do just that, right the ship, might give him a bit of a head start on his developmental process at the major league level. After all, Giolito and James McCann talk frequently about that issue plaguing Giolito in 2018. When things went wrong early, Giolito couldn't get back on track. He's been able to this year, contributing to his success. If Cease can do that from the day he hits the majors, that's a plus.

And if that's a tool Cease already has in his tool box, then the next step would be eliminating those early troubles. As good as Cease has looked at times, those numbers aren't lying. He's given up 32 earned runs in his 50 big league innings. He's given up 11 home runs in nine starts and has yet to have an outing without allowing a homer. Walks have been a sporadic issue: He walked just one batter in each of his last two starts but walked five in the outing prior and has three starts this year with at least four walks.

Again, learning process.

"His stuff is — it's electric stuff," Renteria said. "Sometimes you wonder, 'How can they hit him?' or 'How can they do this?' It's just (that they are) big league hitters. You leave something out over the plate or something they can manage, and they're going to do what they can do with it.

"As long as he continues to execute and use that stuff that he has, he's going to be OK."

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Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

Scott Podsednik and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

They talk Yoan Moncada's comeback, Eloy Jiménez's injury, the Cubs' continuing bullpen struggles and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: