Apr 1, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Sergio Santos (21) throws a pitch during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
For two consecutive nights, the Toronto Blue Jays have emerged as winners against the Tampa Bay Rays. And on two consecutive nights, an appearance by Sergio Santos to close out those wins have almost ended in disaster.
On Tuesday, Santos entered the game to begin the ninth inning, with Toronto nursing a 4-1 lead over Tampa and the meat of the order coming up for the Rays. He immediately responded by surrendering a first-pitch double to Evan Longoria to lead-off the inning. A strike-out of James Loney helped quell the issue, then Desmond Jennings proceeded to hit a liner over the head of Colby Rasmus for an RBI double to score Longoria and cut the lead to two. Santos would get another strike-out off from Logan Forsythe before walking Ryan Hannigan, putting the tying run on base and bringing the winning run to the plate. He would strike-out Yunel Escobar to finish off the side and close out the game, but the heart attack was there.
Regardless of Tuesday’s struggle, John Gibbons went back to Santos on Wednesday night with two-outs in the ninth inning and the Jays holding a 3-0 lead. With an inherited Ben Zobrist on first base, Santos again got to match-up with Longoria. Perhaps it was Tuesday’s at-bat in the back of his mind, but Santos proceeded to walk Longoria on six pitches. That was enough for Gibbons, who gave him the quick hook and brought in Brett Cecil to close it out again pinch-hitter Matt Joyce.
For those of you scoring things at home, Sergio Santos’ stat line for his first two appearances looks a lot like this:
Needless to say, no one is very impressed with the way things have gone for Toronto’s interim closer thus far. Still, while it appears scary right now, and trust me it has, there is no need to panic. Not yet.
Of course, we have to talk about the caveat of small sample sizes, and judging any player’s season based on two outings and 1 inning of work against the likes of Evan Longoria is unfair to say the least. Santos got touched for a home run in his first outing of 2013 and turned out a decent, albeit injury shortened season where he posted a 1.75 ERA, a 0.54 WHIP, and a 7.0 K/BB ratio in 29 outings.
There are also some encouraging things to take away from the last two nights. Santos’ velocity has been solid, averaging 93.7 MPH out of the gate, just a tick below his 94.6 a season ago. He’s also getting a decent amount of swinging strikes, with 1/3 of his strikes being of the swing and miss variety. Perhaps that is due to Santos having thrown his slider on 52.4% of his pitches.
No, Sergio’s early struggles are not due to velocity or his ability to gets swings and misses. Rather, the issue revolves more around Santos leaving too much over the fat part of the plate. When you do that, guys like Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings spank you.
And as you can see from the chart on the right, Santos is leaving a lot in the wheelhouse of right-handed batters.
That all said, Sergio Santos has the repertoire to be a solid, reliable late-inning option for the Blue Jays, and he is more than capable of holding the fort down in the 9th inning for the next two weeks. If he can’t get himself in line before Casey Janssen is eligible to return on April 13th, the Blue Jays have the ability to use a closer-by-committee option with Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar in the mix as well.
Still given how filthy Sergio Santos can be, I’m sure this two game anomaly is just that, and we’ll all be a lot more comfortable in the coming days.