Santos eager to retake role of closer
Janssen also in the mix after converting 22 of 24 chances last season
TORONTO -- Despite all of the upgrades the Blue Jays have made this offseason, it's last year's prized acquisition who has a chance to become the difference maker.
Sergio Santos was acquired last winter to solve all of Toronto's woes at the back end of its bullpen. At the time of the trade, which cost the Blue Jays pitching prospect Nestor Molina, it was heralded by many as one of the most underrated moves of the offseason.
Unfortunately for Santos and the Blue Jays, the deal has yet to pan out. Santos appeared in just six games before being lost for the season with a right shoulder injury, but he has since recovered and is looking forward to putting that disappointing 2012 season in his rear-view mirror.
"It's so exciting, and I think that's what I'm looking forward to most, knowing that when I get to Spring Training, I can close the chapter on 2012," Santos said. "I'm going to use it as a humbling year, gain some experience that way. This is a very humbling game, and now I have the fight and hunger more than ever to get back and prove who I was in 2011."
Santos arrived in Toronto on the heels of a season that saw the Blue Jays finish tied for the American League lead in blown saves, with 25. Santos was tabbed as the guy to solve that problem.
The converted shortstop has the ability to throw in the upper-90s, with a devastating slider and changeup combination that leads to a high number of strikeouts. It is the type of overpowering skill set that is ideal to have in late-innings situations.
The problem is that Santos has yet to display his high-ceiling talent in a Blue Jays uniform. He managed to pitch just five innings before succumbing to a shoulder injury. The ailment was originally supposed to keep Santos out for a couple of weeks, but the shoulder failed to improve.
Over the course of the next three months, Santos repeatedly attempted to get back onto the mound, but progress was always closely followed by setbacks. It was a frustrating and confusing time for Santos, who didn't know what was wrong with his shoulder until late in the year, when he underwent exploratory surgery by Dr. Lewis Yocum.
"I rehabbed for three and a half months in Florida, and I gave it my best go two different times," Santos said. "I was able to go off the mound, and I was able to let it go, but I just couldn't recover. You get a little bit nervous; my arm, my shoulder, that's my livelihood.
"It ended up being just a general cleanup. That's why I could throw, and I had my velocity and everything, but I just couldn't recover because my shoulder wasn't allowing me to settle and fully heal."
Santos now has his sights set on the 2013 season, with the goal of reclaiming his closer's job. That role belongs to right-hander Casey Janssen, who admirably filled in by recording 22 saves in 24 opportunities as a full-time closer.
The original thought was that the ninth-inning job would be Janssen's to lose this season, but manager John Gibbons has declined to officially name his man. That is expected to open the door for Santos, who is just looking for an opportunity to compete for the job.
Either way, Santos' presence will ensure the Blue Jays have a lot more depth to go to in relief. For a long stretch last year, Toronto was forced to overuse Janssen, Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor in order to protect leads.
More depth was added at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in Steve Delabar, Brad Lincoln and Brandon Lyon. But Lyon is a free agent, while Lincoln is going to make the transition to a starter during Spring Training. It's clear the Blue Jays will need a healthy Santos -- in whatever role he ultimately earns -- in order to have enough reliable arms.
"Casey did an unbelievable job, but at the same time, I would love to be the closer," said Santos, who is reporting to camp in early February. "That's the role I relish. I would love to be able to go in and just compete for the job. If we go in and we compete and he beats me in the spring, I have no problem with being a seventh- or eighth-inning guy -- whatever they need me to be.
"But just a chance to compete will be great, and if we're both healthy and throwing well, with Darren coming back, our bullpen is going to be just fine."
As for all the moves Toronto made this season, Santos couldn't be any happier. When he joined the Blue Jays in December 2011, it was clear the organization was on the rise, but he never envisioned that the turnaround would happen this fast.
"You can't do anything but love them," Santos said of the moves. "Obviously they put us in a position to compete with the best of the best, and I think we'll be ready to do that. I like us against anybody, so it's going to be exciting to get to spring and see all of the new additions and really just back into the thick of it and back to playing baseball."