On Wednesday, White Sox closer Hector Santiago allowed three runs and five hits in the 14th inning of a crushing loss to Oakland, blowing a save for the second time in six chances this season. Santiago received an immediate and unqualified vote of confidence from manager Robin Ventura following the loss, which was nice ... but he hasn't appeared in any of Chicago's subsequent games.
One of those games, a 4-1 win over Boston on Sunday, ended in a successful save conversion by veteran left-hander Matt Thornton.
You'll recall that Thornton entered spring training as the favorite to earn the closer's role in Chicago, but a dominant Cactus League performance by Santiago (11.0 IP, 1 ER, 13 Ks) convinced Ventura to hand the ninth inning to an untested 24-year-old. Santiago nailed down his first three save chances before running into a speed-bump at home against Baltimore — or, more accurately, he ran into two speed-bumps. The first was Nolan Reimold, the second was Adam Jones. Both O's outfielders went deep against Santiago, and a save was blown. He pitched reasonably well in his next two appearances, although the degree of difficulty was low (Seattle). Then came Wednesday's outing at Oakland, where Yoenis Cespedes did bad, bad things to this 2-2 screwball.
And then, when a three-run lead presented itself in the ninth on Sunday — with Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz due up for the Red Sox — Ventura decided not to call upon the well-rested pitcher who, he still insists, is his closer. There's a move that doesn't exactly suggest a high level of confidence.
These were a few of Ventura's postgame comments, via CSNChicago.com:
"It is nothing against Hector, he still will be in there in the ninth. But you're looking at guy with a body of work against those three guys. I felt confident leaving Matt in there."
He then added this nugget:
"There could be an occasion, with Jesse [Crain] down, that Addison [Reed] could at some point get enough times facing somebody that it might be him ... at some point."
So in a nutshell, Santiago is the closer ... except when Ventura feels comfortable in almost anyone else's ability to close.
Thornton continues to get the toughest late-inning outs for the Sox this season, facing the opposition's 3-4-5 hitters seemingly every time he takes the mound. Usually this happens in the eighth, but, as we learned over the weekend, there are going to be exceptions. (Check the names on his Batter vs. Pitcher page, after just 11.0 innings. Robin doesn't usually waste his innings on 7-8-9 guys). Thornton never gets a low-stress frame, yet his WHIP stands at 0.73 after the season's opening month. Addison Reed has been equally terrific, striking out 11 batters over 8.1 innings, posting a 0.84 WHIP, allowing no runs.
Meanwhile, Santiago has struck out 10 batters over his 6.1 innings this season, issuing just one walk. That's the good news. No free passes. But the bad news is that Santiago has allowed 11 hits already, four of which have cleared the fence. As a result, Santiago sounds like he's rethinking his relationship with the strike zone. This from MLB.com's Scott Merkin:
"I've actually thought about going out of the zone with certain pitches instead of trying to throw everything for strikes," Santiago said. "I try to make sure I don't walk anybody. Sometimes you have to go out of the zone to be able to get somebody to chase something, and I don't think I've been doing that of late. Maybe I need to get someone to chase something and ground out or swing over something."
It's not often that you hear a late-inning reliever suggest he needs to cut down on the strikes. This could be skittishness, or maybe it's just Santiago learning that big league hitters aren't as forgiving as those at Winston-Salem. Either way, Ventura's reluctance to hand Hector the ball with a three-run lead tells you all you need to know about his grip on the ninth.
Job Security Index
30. Chicago White Sox — Hector Santiago, Matt Thornton, Addison Reed
29. Los Angeles Dodgers — Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen
28. Boston — Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales
27. New York Mets — Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch
26. Minnesota — Matt Capps, Glen Perkins
25. Los Angeles Angels — Scott Downs, Jordan Walden
24. Washington — Henry Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard
23. Kansas City — Jonathan Broxton, Aaron Crow
22. Cincinnati — Sean Marshall, Aroldis Chapman
21. Oakland — Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Ryan Cook
20. Tampa Bay — Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta
19. Toronto — Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver, Luis Perez
18. Miami — Heath Bell, Steve Cishek, Edward Mujica
17. San Francisco — Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo
16. Cleveland — Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano
15. Houston — Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez
14. Baltimore — Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop
13. Texas — Joe Nathan, Mike Adams
12. Chicago Cubs — Carlos Marmol, Rafael Dolis
11. San Diego — Huston Street, Andrew Cashner, Luke Gregerson
10. Detroit — Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit
9. St. Louis — Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs
8. Colorado — Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle
7. Arizona — JJ Putz, David Hernandez
6. Milwaukee — John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez
5. Seattle — Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen
4. Pittsburgh — Joel Hanrahan, Juan Cruz
3. Atlanta — Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters
2. Philadelphia — Jonathan Papelbon, Chad Qualls
1. New York Yankees — Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano
• Kenley Jansen has picked up the last two saves for the Dodgers, but manager Don Mattingly isn't ready to officially demote Javy Guerra just yet. Guerra has allowed at least one earned run in each of his last three appearances, and he took Brian McCann liner off his face last Wednesday. But Mattingly sounds like a man who won't make a bullpen move until the move is permanent:
"We're 21 games in. What happens if you make a change and it doesn't work? Drop [Mike MacDougal] in there? [Josh] Lindblom? It's a tryout camp at that point. I'm not panicking on any level with anybody."
Fair enough. Jansen is long gone in competitive leagues anyway — the stellar K-rate makes him a must-own — so most of you can't really take action here. Just know that Guerra isn't entirely out of the saves picture.
• Heath Bell has given up five walks, two hits and four earned runs over his last two appearances, and he hasn't recorded a K since April 19. Yes, you should be worried. Set-up man Steve Cisheck is my preferred handcuff, as he's delivered outstanding ratios (last year and this year) while striking out a batter per inning. Edward Mujica isn't really scaring anyone at the moment (4.66 ERA, 1.45 WHIP).
One additional Fish note: Juan Carlos Oviedo, who used to be known as "Leo Nunez," will be suspended by MLB for eight weeks for falsifying his identity. That strikes me as a little harsh; I wrote under the fake name "Matt Romig" for like six years and no one cared.
• Brad Lidge has undergone hernia surgery, so it's going to be at least a month before we need to worry about him again. For now, the ninth belongs to Henry Rodriguez in Washington. Rodriguez blew a save on Saturday, but he'd been nearly flawless in nine previous appearances.
• Pedro Strop, not Matt Lindstrom, handled closing duties for Baltimore while Jim Johnson was sidelined by food poisoning. Strop has fanned 14 batters over 13.0 innings, allowing just three earned runs while delivering a 1.08 WHIP. Over his last four appearances, he's picked up two saves and two wins. However, Johnson is expected to immediately reclaim the closing gig — he will not be eased back into the role — so Strop's usefulness is at an end in standard mixers.
• Yes, I am aware that Carlos Marmol has been a mess. He walked three Phillies in his last appearance and he's blown saves in two of his three chances so far this year. But there's just no obvious Plan B in Chicago's bullpen. Kerry Wood is due back from the DL soon, but he's at least as frightening as Marmol. Avoid this 'pen if you possibly can. Never, ever watch them pitch.
• Oakland set-up man Ryan Cook has earned holds in each of his last six appearances, and he's allowed just one hit in his 10.0 innings so far this year. He's a hard-thrower who's coaxed a bunch of swinging strikes this year, moving up the hierarchy in the A's 'pen. Keep him on your radar in 5x5 formats, add him in leagues that track holds.
• If you missed the Jordan Walden news over the weekend, this post should catch you up. Scott Downs has earned the past two saves for the Halos; Walden hasn't appeared in a game since Mike Scioscia sent him to the penalty box.