Sergio Santos has taken an unusual route not only to the big leagues but to the role of closer. After being drafted as a first-round pick in 2002, he bounced around the Minor Leagues as a shortstop for eight years before converting to a pitcher. He has 28 saves in 32 opportunities for the White Sox, posting a 2.63 ERA in 53 games. Santos recently spoke to MLBPLAYERS.com.
09/02/2011 9:34 AM ET
Santos steps in as closer
Former shortstop thriving in relief role for White Sox
By Jeff Moeller / MLBPLAYERS.com
MLBPLAYERS.com Describe the journey you took to get here.
Sergio Santos: It wasn't the way I drew it up, but I will take it. My goal was to become a Major League baseball player, and here I am. I thought I was going to make it as a shortstop, as a lot of guys do, but that's not the way it worked out. Now, I'm enjoying the life of a Major League player, and I'm enjoying every second of it. The goal was always to make it here, and I'm very blessed and fortunate to be where I am now. It's great.
MLBPLAYERS.com Why didn't you make it as a big league shortstop?
Santos: I think it came down to consistency. I had the tools to be an everyday player in this league, but I didn't do it on a consistent basis like other guys do. That's why guys in this league who make it as shortstops make the money they do. They are able to come in day after day, and managers know what they are going to get out of them. They may have slumps here and there, but they know how to get out of it. That's something I just couldn't do. I had a habit of playing good for a month and then follow it up with two bad months. I couldn't turn that corner.
MLBPLAYERS.com Was the experience of making it to the big leagues, the Minors, the grind and everything else what you thought it would be?
Santos: I'm not sure. You think when you get drafted that you're going to be playing every day, but you don't take into the account the day-to-day stuff. There are the grueling bus rides. The hotels, the time spent practicing, it all goes into it. When you finally make it here, you realize that after all that it was worth it. Things are just so much better up here. It was worth all the sacrifices and everything you had to do to get here.
MLBPLAYERS.com Through all those hard times in the Minors was your family there to support you?
Santos: They played a big part in me getting to where I am now. My wife was an integral part of my support team when I was converted from shortstop to pitcher. It was tough because it was like starting all over. We had two kids, and my main goal the whole time was to be able to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. She had all the confidence in the world in me, and it got me through the whole thing.
MLBPLAYERS.com There is Interleague Play, of course. Do the coaches here know that you might have that itch to pick up a bat and step in the box?
Santos: Oh trust me, I've told them since last year. I just want to get one at-bat, one crack at it. They always joke around and tell me that I made it to the big leagues as a pitcher for a reason. I keep pestering them for even some batting practice time. I just want one more try.
MLBPLAYERS.com Can you talk about your limited experience in the closer spot?
Santos: I think if you talk to any reliever, that is the role they want to play. They want to be they guy who, after nine innings of your team playing hard, is given the chance to close out the game. They want that responsibility. I feel like we have more than enough guys on our team who can fill that role. We have more than enough guys who are capable of doing that. We just want to get a win any way we can. We kind of dug ourselves into a hole at the beginning of the season, but we were hopeful things would turn around for us.
MLBPLAYERS.com What are some of the keys to your success?
Santos: I feel like I've thrown the ball well and gotten ahead in the counts early on. I think I've done the job I'm supposed to do by working off my fastball. I have a lot of confidence and had early momentum that I just wanted to keep going.
MLBPLAYERS.com In your first 16 games this season you did not give up a single run and set an MLB record -- previously held by Mariano Rivera -- by not allowing a run over 25 road appearances to start a season. Was your plan to have a perfect ERA this year?
Santos: Obviously, I knew they were coming at some point. I just felt that if I kept throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters I could keep the runs to a minimum. If I kept attacking hitters the way I had been, I will be OK. On the road, it's one of those things that just kind of happened. I was pitching pretty well, and it just so happened on the road.
MLBPLAYERS.com How do you think you are doing in the big picture?
Santos: Hopefully, I haven't scratched the surface of what I can do as a big league pitcher. To be honest, I think I've made big strides and improvements over last year. A lot of it is my mental approach to the game. It seemed like everything was new and thrown at me last season. This year I kind of knew what to expect from it all. Now when I'm working with our catchers we have a plan of attack to work from. If I can do it all effectively, then the outcome is usually good.
MLBPLAYERS.com What is something that you can work on, physically, to improve your game?
Santos: I think time will tell, but maybe increasing my workload. Last season I had 56 innings. That was my first full year. It will all depend on how far I can go this year. In the Minors I only had 20 innings or so to go on. That will be the big question mark -- how many innings can I go? I will have to see what I have to do off the field to make me as strong as possible on the field. I just want to help my team by going as long as I can.
Jeff Moeller is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.