Santiago ready to start if called on

Hector Santiago will start the season as a long man out of the bullpen. Mike DiNovo/US Presswire

CHICAGO -- Although Dylan Axelrod will begin the season as the fifth starter, Hector Santiago is the man-in-waiting for the role. With John Danks rehabbing in the minor leagues both pitchers may be needed to bridge the gap he left behind.

The White Sox have been quiet about Santiago’s role, but a source confirmed that he is considered the next starter on the team if Axelrod stumbles or another rotation starter gets injured.

Santiago made four starts and 38 relief appearances in his rookie season. Showing management what the future might hold, he struck out 10 Cleveland hitters last October in a seven-inning stint.

“My role on this club is awesome,” Santiago said. “I can be in the pen one day and starting the next, then two days later be back in the pen. I am happy to pitch wherever they need me.”

Santiago has the stuff to make it in the rotation, but like most young pitchers his command and a tendency to give up the long ball are a concern. Santiago gave up 10 home runs in 70 innings last season.

Pitching coach Don Cooper has told Santiago to be prepared for any role that might pop up.

“He told me to be ready for everything,” Santiago said. “He said you are in the pen now but you might start against a (left-handed) hitting team soon. He also said I might be in the pen all year. Whatever they need they know I am ready.”

For now Santiago may be the long man for all of Axelrod’s starts until he has been stretched out or Danks returns to the major league team.

“That is how it looks for now because Ax only got up to 100 pitches at the end of camp,” he said. “I will be ready to finish up his game if they ask me to.”

Santiago has added the cut fastball to his arsenal of pitches. He began throwing the pitch at the end of 2012.

“That has been a big addition for me,” Santiago said. It kind of gives the right-handed hitters something else to look for. My changeup is still a good pitch for me but with the cutter I can really run a pitch in on a righty hitter’s hands. That induces more ground balls and helps set up my change a little more.”

Santiago sees himself as a starting pitcher in the future.

“I have always felt I can be a solid starter,” he said. “I guess the Sox like building up their young pitchers out of the major league bullpen to get experience. Whatever they want is fine for me.”