Hector Santiago has always had a terrific left arm. But his mechanics stunk, so he wasn’t able to live up to his potential.
He is now, thanks in part to his work with Los Angeles Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher and the building of a mini-mound at home.
The results have been terrific. Santiago had respective ERAs of 3.56 and 3.75 with the Chicago White Sox and the Angels the past two seasons. He currently sits at 2.58 this season and figures to garner consideration for the American League All-Star team.
The making of the mini-mound has apparently played a huge role.
“I made one like 3-feet wide just so I can feel myself go toward the plate; I didn’t have that opportunity to fall off the side of the mound, because if I did I was probably going to roll an ankle or something,” said Santiago, who leads Angels starting pitchers in ERA by more than a full point; the closest to him is Garrett Richards’ 3.54.
“So mentally, I was convincing myself and my body to go towards the plate. And I think that was kind of like, OK, now I can feel if I’m going left, I notice it because I’m landing off the mound. If I’m going right, I feel myself going off the right side of the mound.”
Over and over again, Santiago would execute his delivery on this mound.
“Once I got better direction, I got better command,” said Santiago, whose next start is Saturday in Texas. “My curveball was bad because I never had direction toward the plate. I was going toward first base and I was trying to pull it back. It was just all about getting to my highest point and getting balance, being able to stay in control and get that better direction.”
Santiago, 27, said his level of concentration had to be high while he was working on his mechanics.
“It took a lot of focus and self-discipline to kind of put myself in a place I’ve never been before,” he said.
Angels catcher Chris Iannetta has taken notice.
“His command is a big thing,” Iannetta said. “He’s ahead in counts, he’s not walking guys. He’s kind of wild within the strike zone and he’s kind of using that to his advantage, where before he’d be behind in counts and missing and he’d have to come right over the middle of the plate to get back into a count.
“That’s where he was kind of getting hit. Now he’s ahead and he’s doing a good job.”
Santiago is still walking 3.1 batters per nine innings, but that’s the best ratio of his career. He was at 3.7 in 2014 and 4.3 in 2013 with the White Sox.
With 88 strikeouts, Santiago is also averaging the most strikeouts per nine innings - 8.4 - since becoming a regular starter in 2013. His heater is often clocked at 93 mph.
In his most recent start, Santiago pitched seven innings and allowed just one run on three hits with six strikeouts and two walks. He didn’t get the decision, but his effort went a long way in the Angels notching a 3-2 victory over Seattle.
Afterward, manager Mike Scioscia spelled out for reporters just exactly what he thinks of Santiago’s season.
“Hector Santiago is throwing the ball the best he has in his whole life right now,” Scioscia said. “Give a lot of credit to Mike Butcher, I think that Mike has done an incredible job with him, just as he has with Garrett Richards and a lot of young guys.
“He (Santiago) has been incredible. And, hopefully, he’s going to maintain this.”
But is he good enough to be picked to the All-Star team? His ERA is fourth-best among AL starters, but because of a lot of no-decisions he is just 4-4 in 15 starts.
“Well, All-Star is a tricky term because I think the way he’s pitching there is no doubt that he’s going to get All-Star consideration,” Scioscia said. “There’s no doubt he’s throwing the ball as well as the top 10 pitchers in our league, top five pitchers in our league, however you want to slice it up.
“But that selection process is dicey, and especially with pitching it comes down to where guys are pitching at the end at the break. If they’re pitching on Sunday, they might get selected, but they’re not going to be able to pitch, and that might influence some things.”
Either way, Santiago is just thrilled to be doing what he is capable of doing. Listening to his manager boast about him makes it that much better.
“Right now I’m pitching with confidence,” said Santiago, whose WHIP of 1.134 is also a career-best. “And hearing stuff like that gives you that extra edge of confidence and more motivation to go out there and continue having this good success.”
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News.
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