Santiago embracing challenge of ninth inning

Santiago embracing challenge of ninth inning

Santiago embracing challenge of ninth inning
ARLINGTON -- Ron Washington fully expected veteran southpaw Matt Thornton to be closing out victories for the White Sox if they took a lead against his Rangers into the ninth inning during this opening three-game series.

So, Hector Santiago, the chosen rookie closer at the outset of the 2012 season, wasn't surprised that the Rangers looked a little surprised in the home dugout when he entered Saturday to lock down a 4-3 White Sox victory.

"I got up there and I started warming up," said Santiago, recounting the ninth-inning tale one day after pitching a perfect ninth for his first career save. "And in between warmup pitches, I looked over to them, and they were all kind of up on the top step seeing what I have or whatever they were looking at.

"They were probably wondering who I am and, 'Who is this guy? I've never heard of this guy.' They didn't remember I started against them in Spring Training."

Santiago actually threw two scoreless innings during a Cactus League start against the Rangers in Surprise, Ariz., on March 8, a start in which he struck out both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz with his screwball. That scoreless effort was part of the progression taking Santiago from a pitcher simply trying to make the team in early February to the club's last line of pitching defense.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura reiterated Sunday that Santiago will have the ninth inning, unless he needs some sort of respite. And the 24-year-old with 6 1/3 innings of big league experience is ready for the challenge.

"I'm just going to try to not even worry about the situation," Santiago said. "I'm going to go out there like it's a regular inning.

"It's a big situation, but I'm just going to go out there and go after guys and not change anything or think about anything too much. Attack hitters and hopefully keep going."

When Santiago spoke with the media Thursday and talked about looking for entrance music, he already knew that the closer's job belonged to him for the immediate future. He didn't guess at a definitive reason as to why the White Sox wanted to keep it secret, aside from possibly keeping the other team thinking, but he certainly was going to play his part and not destroy the dream before it began.

All 23 of his Minor League appearances last season came as a starter, meaning Santiago never expected to record his first Major League save before his first win.

"No, I definitely didn't think that was going to happen," a smiling Santiago said. "My whole goal coming to spring was just to make the team.

"Then, with them giving me the opportunity to actually go out there and finish the game in Spring Training and then finish it in Houston ... then named as the closer yesterday, it's a little surreal."