It was just one inning Thursday of a 1-0 victory over the New York Yankees and, sure, it was just spring training.
But for Blue Jays reliever Sergio Santos it was another step toward reclaiming the closer’s role from the behind-schedule incumbent, Casey Janssen.
Working the fourth inning to ensure he would face some major-leaguers, the right-hander produced a first-pitch chopper to second base by Mark Teixeira, followed by an opposite field popup to short left by Travis Hafner.
But it was the Santos strikeout of catcher Bobby Wilson with a runner on first base to end the inning that was most impressive. First, it was a 96 m.p.h. fastball up in the strike zone, followed by a 94 m.p.h. heater at the bottom of the zone, then an 86 m.p.h. slider that had the Yankees catcher off balance and flailing. There was no sign of the discomfort from last spring and the velocity was back for Santos, who had surgery last July to repair the labrum in his pitching shoulder.
“That was the tough part, trying to block out the pain, knowing that it was going to hurt,” Santos said of last season when he was forced from the mound. “Bracing yourself for (pain) and then on top of that dealing with the hitter and everything else. Now it has just allowed me to get back to focusing on whatever the pitch is and on my location.”
Acquired from the Chicago White Sox for pitching prospect Nestor Molina, the former major-league infielder is under contract for two more seasons, plus three club options. Having been a pitcher for just a short time, Santos failed to recognize the danger signs of his shoulder pain last spring and tried to throw through the discomfort until being shut down on April 20 in Kansas City.
“It was in the back of my shoulder,” Santos said. “The second I would let the ball go would be just a sharp, stabbing pain in the back of my shoulder. It was tender to the touch and there was just so much inflammation in there and it wouldn’t get out. I would continually have that pain.”
He attempted for three months to rehab without surgery, finally having no choice but to get the work done by famed West Coast orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum. The good news was the doctors told him the three months of exercise he had already put in gave him a head start on his recovery.