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Santiago changes routine in effort to fix slow starts

Santiago changes routine in effort to fix slow starts

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Hector Santiago has been searching for any solution to cure his early-game issues as a starter, with an ERA of 4.55 over his first three innings pitched dropping to 3.13 from innings four through six.

Throwing his side bullpen session on Saturday after Wednesday's start instead of the usual Friday session is one change that Santiago hopes facilitates other positives.

"Me and [pitching coach Don Cooper] were talking, and we were like, 'Let's move it back to tomorrow, get you closer, move it one day to get you that feel from the bullpen closer to the game,'" Santiago said. "'Take advantage of that first inning instead of having the two days off and that grind to get through the first inning.'

"You get that one day instead of having two days off, of getting that feel off the mound. That's been for me, it has been that tough or long inning in the first or second. After that, your pitch count goes lower and I have a max 20 pitches from there on out."

Santiago threw a career-high 123 pitches against the Orioles, which is the reason Cooper points to for the bullpen adjustment. In fact, Santiago has topped 100 pitches in four of his last five starts.

Aside from those first- or second-inning blues, though, Santiago feels great.

"We are looking at this guy to pitch and stay strong all year," said Cooper. "We limit sidelines a lot of times or skip them sometimes. Or we'll do a Day 3 and just do light touch and feel sometimes.

"I kind of look at myself as the activity coordinator and making sure that you are going to be starting and going every five or six days. You are going 200 innings. I don't need another 75 in the bullpen or high intensity. I just need touch and feel."

As for Santiago's slow starts within a start, Cooper doesn't believe the issue is physical.

"It's focus and I think it's commitment. I think it's approach," Cooper said. "Those are the things that come to mind with him. I also think that when you think about it, this is his second year in the big leagues and he's on a process. There's an asterisk there, too, because now he's starting."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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