Santiago targets starting job for White Sox in 2014
CHICAGO -- During an end-of-the-season conversation, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper told Hector Santiago that he views the southpaw as part of the 2014 starting rotation.
Of course, that conversation took place this last week of September, and more than any other White Sox offseason in recent memory, everything is open to change. Santiago could be part of a rotation featuring four left-handers, or he could be traded from a position of depth to help strengthen another area on the team.
Santiago might even end up back in the bullpen, serving in that hybrid swing roll between reliever and starter. And even after posting a 3.51 ERA over 23 starts and fanning 122 over 130 2/3 innings, the 25-year-old wouldn't really be bothered if he was switched out of a startering job.
"In the back of my head, it probably would [bother me]. It would be like I felt like I did enough to earn a spot," Santiago said. "But I understand the whole situation and I just want to play. I want to be out there pitching, whether it's throwing one inning or seven or eight."
Assuming Santiago remains a starter, he already has targeted areas of improvement over the next few months. He didn't specifically feel weak over the last few weeks, as his 149 innings pitched between the rotation and bullpen surpassed his previous single-season high, but his legs definitely didn't feel as strong as they did around the All-Star break.
So Santiago is looking to improve his endurance and become more of a seven- or eight-innings sort of starter. Cutting down on the 72 walks issued would reduce his pitch count and allow him to work deeper into games.
That high pitch count also has given some scouts pause for thought as to whether Santiago is a better bullpen fit. He'd prefer to remain a starter, but is ready for any role the White Sox envision.
"I'm up for anything," said Santiago, who understands the White Sox possibly could add a veteran starter to the mix. "I kind of think I did enough to earn my [rotation] spot there. But if I have to be the long guy again and earn my way back into the rotation, I'm fine with that too."
Sale looks to reduce stolen bases next season
CHICAGO -- A pretty deep search is needed to find a negative amid Chris Sale's Cy Young-worthy performance in 2013. He set a single-season franchise record for a left-handed starter with 226 strikeouts, established a franchise record for a starter with 9.49 strikeouts per nine innings and surpassed 200 innings for the first time in his career, not to mention reducing his walk total from his rotation debut in 2012.
But neutralizing the running game remains a work in progress for Sale. Factoring in two Royals' stolen bases on Friday, opponents were successful on 19 of 21 opportunities with Sale on the mound.
"I wouldn't say I have a good move to first by any means. I actually have a kind of bad move," Sale said with a wry smile. "It's something you want to build on and do better at. You watch guys like Andy Pettitte, and obviously Mark Buehrle had an unbelievable move.
"To be able to take away maybe half of those, it's big. It's something to work on for next year."
By Sale's own admission, he really doesn't care about the runner on base. Finding a happy medium between too much focus and none at all certainly will give White Sox catchers a better chance at nailing would-be base stealers.
"Yeah, work on a pickoff move, maybe work on looks. Just get better for next year," Sale said. "My focus is at the plate. Sometimes I feel like you worry about the guy at first and you kind of lose track of what you really need to do.
"Like I said, that's my downfall. I wouldn't say not caring, but not paying attention enough to guys on base, knowing that I have to get this guy out before anything happens with him."
Cornerstone for '14, Garcia looks ahead to next season
CHICAGO -- Avisail Garcia's .329 batting average since Aug. 13 stands as the seventh-best mark in the American League. Since joining the White Sox, Garcia has a .314 average with five homers and 21 RBIs in advance of Saturday's matchup with the Royals.
While Garcia is pleased with his finish, he's already focused on 2014.
"You've got to finish strong, keep in mind the next season and work hard in the offseason," Garcia said during a recent interview after connecting off of Danny Salazar for a homer in Cleveland. "You have to get ready for the full season."
Manager Robin Ventura would like to see continued improvement in terms of pitch selection for Garcia, who is one of the cornerstones as the White Sox rework their roster for 2014.
"But he's been improving," Ventura said. "There's something to getting him up here and letting him play, and seeing how he responds and does things.
"We've seen improvement since he's been up here, just being able to put the ball in play, fight off pitches. Sometimes guys just have that innate ability to do that, and he seems to be one of those who does that."
Third to first
• Ventura wasn't fooled by Alex Gordon's catch on Alexei Ramirez's long drive to left in Friday's 6-1 loss. The fireworks went off after Gordon leapt up the wall, landed, then caught the ball in front of the White Sox bullpen.
"What I saw was him jump on the fence, and then come down off the fence and catch the ball," Ventura said Saturday. "And the fireworks and the organ playing. I wasn't fooled by it. I wasn't in charge of the fireworks. I know you probably think that, but we don't have a button here for the fireworks and we don't have an organ either."
• Ventura played two years with Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter as part of the Yankees. So he had an extra appreciation for Thursday's great baseball moment, when Pettitte and Jeter came to the mound to take out the game's greatest closer for the final time.
"It's a touching moment for all of them coming up together and playing together," Ventura said. "You don't see that too often that teammates last that long together, let alone in New York for that long. So it was nice to see."