Humber's solid night is good news for Sox

Philip Humber could be critical to whether the Chicago White Sox remain in the American League Central hunt.

That seems strange to say about a pitcher who was considered the team’s No. 5 starter heading into the season. But back then, the White Sox weren’t expected to be in first place on July 17 and they had a completely healthy starting rotation.

But because the White Sox are the AL Central front-runners and will be without starting pitchers Gavin Floyd and John Danks for the foreseeable future, Humber’s role has became vital. The White Sox need Humber to win them some games and keep them in most, if they’re going to compete for the division over the next few months.

On Tuesday, Humber took the first step in accomplishing that.

After missing a month due an elbow flexor strain, Humber returned to the mound on Tuesday, allowing two runs over six innings to help the White Sox to a 7-5 win over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

“That’s a big one,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Humber’s performance. “You see what (Kevin Youkilis) did, (but) for Phil coming back, that’s what you expect out of him. He was getting ahead early.”

With Humber this season, it’s been difficult to know on any given start whether the White Sox would be getting the pitcher who fooled hitters with his curveball and controlled a game or the one who got knocked around. He’s been equally good and bad this season.

By all indications in the first inning on Tuesday, it appeared as if Humber was headed down the wrong path again. He allowed three hits and two runs and threw 25 pitches in the opening inning.

Despite the rough inning, Humber felt in control.

“Honestly, I felt I made some pretty good pitches in the first inning,” Humber said. “That’s a pretty good hitting ballclub.”

Humber proved from there on out, he was in control. He bounced back and retired the Red Sox in order in the second inning. He fought out of a jam in the third inning without allowing a run. He retired the side again in the fourth inning. He also shut out the Red Sox in the fifth and sixth innings.

“He got through that first inning,” Ventura said. “After that, it was pretty nice. That’s more of what we expect.”

Humber left after six innings and allowed just the first two runs. He also gave up six hits, walked none and struck out three.

Just as important, Humber didn’t feel any pain in his elbow after making 104 pitches.

“It feels good,” Humber said. “I think it was a good test tonight. I made some pressure pitches in a couple innings there and held up pretty good and I was able to throw all the pitches when I wanted to throw them.

“I love coming here. This is a great place to play. When you’re out, definitely makes you that much more thankful for every opportunity to go out there and play in the big leagues.”