The overreaction to Santos’ struggles

The level of frustration was palpable during the ninth inning at Rogers Centre on Monday night. Toronto’s closer Sergio Santos had just blown his second save in as many opportunities this season and the 48,000-plus fans in attendance let their voices be heard with a chorus of boos as Santos walked off the field.

Santos said all the right things after his outing about how the fans have every right to voice their opinion and how he himself would have booed in that situation. That’s all fine and good but you have to think there’s a level of frustration beneath the surface that Santos has about the reaction for his first game in a Blue Jays’ uniform. Let’s get one thing straight, Santos isn’t Frank Francisco and he’s not Jon Rauch. He wasn’t around last season as the Blue Jays tied for the American League lead in blown saves with 25. It’s a new season and a new closer — one with an overpowering fastball and devastating slider — who has all the tools required to become an elite reliever in this league.

That little rant isn’t meant to criticize the Blue Jays’ fanbase. I completely understand the lack of patience a lot of people have considering the struggles in 2011, the previous mistakes of Kevin Gregg in 2010 and the lack of a bonafide closer since BJ Ryan’s first season in Toronto. But Santos wasn’t responsible for any of that and before everyone jumps to conclusions about his overall abilities let’s give this at least a few weeks to see how it all plays out. The fact is Toronto has a very valuable commodity under club control until 2017 and even if Santos struggles early there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to turn it around. Afterall, it has only been two games.

Here are some leftovers from today’s interview with Santos and some leftovers from John Farrell’s scrum with the media:

Sergio Santos:

What did you learn about the closer position last year in Chicago that helps you deal with some early season adversity this year?

“You can’t change the past all you can do is learn from it. Looking back, last night after I finished doing my running, I looked at video, sat down and talked with Papi and we kind of went over stuff that we could have improved that inning or what we could have done and I just learned from that. I take that as an experience and maybe it will help me out at some point in the season when that same kind of thing happens and things start to speed up I can kind of look back and be like, alright this happened before, you have to learn from it and I just take it as a learning experience.”

What did you notice in the video?

“I was just trying to do too much. I was trying to be too perfect with every pitch. Trying to locate at 97 and throw at 100 and you can’t really do that. Just have to go back and go back to square one, pound in the zone and attack hitters. If I’m throwing good pitches and they’re still hitting them, I can live with that but when I try to do too much that’s tough to swallow because I should know better.”

Was it a similar pitch to Pedroia that hurt you in Cleveland with Asdrubal Cabrera?

“It was just a bad located pitch to a guy that can hit that pitch. If there’s anybody in their lineup that can hit a fastball up and in it’s Pedroia. I should have stayed low and away or gone with something else but learn from it and move on.”

Happy to have the home openers in Cleveland and Toronto out of the way so you guys can focus on the season without some of the added distractions?

“It’s good, the beginning of the year, because everybody gets excited and it’s a fun time of the year but now it’s kind of like that first week is almost done and now we know the grind is before us. Now it’s important to try to win as many games as we can because we’re playing tough teams every night and any way we can scratch together a win is very helpful.”

You were on a different plan in Spring Training than the other pitchers. Did the lack of innings in Major League games this spring potentially play a factor in the rough start?

“It would have been nice to get more innings but that’s neither here nor there. That’s not a crutch for me, I’m not going to sit here and say look I only threw ‘x’ amount of innings so that’s why I’m not starting off great. It’s a part of the game, it’s baseball, you have good days and bad days so it’s about weathering that storm, not making the bad days too terrible and on the good days not being on cloud nine. It’s just finding that even keel, it’s a long season, and hopefully looking back in August and September if we’re pushing to win the AL East I can look back on this first week and it just be a blip and something I can learn from. I still have the utmost confidence in myself to go out there and get the job done and that’s what I look forward to doing.”

What do you like about your stuff right now?

“My arm’s feeling good, everything feels good. The ball’s coming out of my hand the way I want. I threw some good pitches yesterday and that’s what I take away from it. I leave all of the bad stuff there and I just take the good stuff and build off that and hopefully I can get some momentum and put some good innings together.”

Can’t wait to get back out there again?

“No doubt about it. The hardest part is waiting. It’s tough, I’m a competitor, I love to compete, I want to be out there again and I want them to give me the ball.”

You haven’t had much time to work with J.P. yet and you’re obviously known for that hard slider, which appears difficult to catch. What has the working relationship been like so far with Arencibia?

“It’s going to take some time for J.P. to learn me, for me to learn J.P. It’s kind of tough to do that in the six weeks of Spring Training because he’s got so many other pitchers to work with. We’ll get in synch, we’ll get it together, I’m not worried about that part of it. I would have loved to get off to a better start but that’s in the past now and I can look forward to being here for the rest of the season. I’m looking forward to going out there and I’m sure J.P. and I will get together and start working.”

Lots of other closers around the league have been struggling as well. Can you take any solace in that and know that these type of things come with the territory?

“It happens. It just stinks, that’s the tough part about being a closer is you have all your teammates battle for nine innings and grind it out and for you to get in there and screw everything it’s tough. It’s a tough pill to swallow because you know how hard your guys worked. You see it, I’m not the only one going through it, there are other guys around the league that have blown saves and it happens. I just have to leave that in the past and move on.”

Having the ability to put bad outings in the past…

“No doubt about it. I think about it that night and then literally as soon as I wake up the next morning, the sun came up, I talked to my wife and kids. It was a good day. Now I look forward to having another ballgame, hopefully I get in and this time hopefully I’ll get the job done.”

John Farrell:

“Sergio’s our closer. Anything more than that at this point, there’s no difference in approach being taken today, tomorrow or Friday, he is our closer.”

On the altered approach for Santos in Spring Training…

“We felt like he was in very good shape coming into camp. We did spend some time working on his changeup, we spent some time refining where his hands are set up in his delivery to strive for more consistent fastball command, particularly down in the strike zone. We still got him seven appearances total between sim games, Minor League games and A games and I think typically for a one-inning reliever that’s not too few of outings particularly in the shape he came into camp with.”

Still new to being a closer…

“He’s relatively new to being a pitcher when you look at 28 innings in the Minor Leagues in his pro career before becoming a big league reliever. It’s very clear that’s a quick path to the big leagues and really not a whole lot of developmental time regardless of whether it’s as a one-inning reliever or as a starter. He understanding who he is as a pitcher and how he’s most effective, particularly with his effort level in his delivery and inevitably a pitcher is going to sacrifice command at times when they’re trying to get maximum velocity.

“We’re still learning Sergio. Yeah, we can go back and read reports and review all of the video that we want but through experiences and in the same uniform that’s where we get to learn more about him and what makes him most effective.”

On max effort  versus location…

“You want location first and foremost regardless of velocity. Some guys have that rare ability to combine both. We’re certainly not asking Sergio to throw slower, but at the same time there has to be a balance there with effort and energy in the delivery and commanding the baseball.”

3 Comments

I think some fans at recent Leafs game(s) were also in attendance for the home opener.

… Expectations are high. Tolerance is low.

Gregor, I think you make some very good points, but I think Toronto fans are just showing the frustration of seeming to never make the grade with their sporting franchises. Sure, the Leafs suck, but we also have no other teams in this town who have done much of anything in the past twenty years, the Jays being no exception. That is what is driving the overwhelming negativity of the people in the seats.

The Jays HAD that game on Monday. It was theirs, until Santos coughed up three runs. That hurts. Yes, it was obvious that he was trying to do too much – and once fans realize that it was his effort in trying to impress us that led to his failure, they will relax and understand. I’m one of the patient fans, but I have to admit to thinking, “Oh no, not again,” at the results of Monday night’s game. It sort of comes with the territory at the moment.

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