Starter, reliever, pitch BP and clean spikes? Tigers' Hector Santiago is up for it

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — It wasn’t the cover letter that got veteran lefty Hector Santiago a minor-league deal with the Tigers. But it certainly got their attention.

In the most hilarious way. Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd was still chuckling about it on Wednesday.

Pitcher Hector Santiago, right, is in Tigers camp as a non-roster invitee.

"I have to show you the letter he wrote," Chadd said. "Never seen anything like it. I told him I had to share it."

Santiago, 33 on April 4 and an All-Star back in 2015, has nine seasons and 257 big-league games under his belt. Still, after splitting last season with the Mets and White Sox, including two stints in Triple A, he wasn’t at all sure he’d have a job in 2020.

So he sent out his resume to all 30 teams. Here’s the cover letter:

“Need a pitcher? I can. Starter, long relief, middle relief, left-handed specialist, closer, finisher, mop-up. Start on short rest. Start today pitch tomorrow. I’ve done it all. Need a guy to abuse to save the rest of the bullpen, that’s been my career! Let’s do it. I’m all in. It’s all me. I’ll throw 162 games. I’ll throw live BP for hitters before games and be ready for the game the same night. Trust me, you can’t throw me too much.

“Manager: How you feel? Me: I’m good to go. Let’s go, put me in. Can you shag BP by yourself? Yup, I’ll do it. Can you flip (short toss to hitters) in the cage? Yup, got it. Hec, can you clean the spikes? Yup, got it. Hec, can you wash the uniforms tonight? Yup. I’ll be the yes man for whoever needs me to be. My career has literally been just like this— ha-ha.”

Priceless. But what truly moved the Tigers to extend a camp offer to Santiago was his strong work in Puerto Rico this winter. According to Baseball Reference, Santiago made eight starts for Carolina, two of them complete games. He allowed just four runs in 49 innings with 40 strikeouts.

Then, in two games in the Caribbean Series, he allowed two runs in 10 innings with 11 strikeouts. He left the semifinal game with a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning, but Carolina ended up losing 5-4.

Santiago signed his deal with the Tigers the morning of that game.

“It was tough going into the offseason not knowing what’s going to happen,” he said. “The way baseball has turned around, you are just hoping to get a phone call. … We had talked before and they were supposed to come see my start (in the Caribbean Series) on a Wednesday. That game got rained out.

“But they called me the next day and had the contract ready to be signed. They didn’t see me pitch, but they had a couple Puerto Rican scouts who told them how well I had been throwing the ball.”

His ability to pitch in any situation and virtually every day if needed, and being left-handed, gives him a viable chance to win a spot in the Tigers bullpen. Presently, short-inning set-up man Gregory Soto is the only lefty reliever on the 40-man roster.

“I have an opportunity here where they have some bullpen needs, and possibly some starter needs,” Santiago said. “I can eat some innings, that’s the main thing in coming here and not some place else. I can be the person who can do both roles and eat innings.

“That’s what I’ve been doing pretty much my whole career.”

There is one other bonus to playing with and not against the Tigers.

“Yeah, I don’t have to face Miggy anymore,” he said. “I think he’s hit like .400 off me, so I am glad to get him on my side.”

Pretty close. Cabrera has slashed .364/.432/.606 with a 1.038 OPS against Santiago, who has pitched seven of his nine seasons in the American League Central Division.

“When I finally got out, they trade me right back in,” he said, laughing.

All told, 2019 was the worst of Santiago’s career, as the 6.68 ERA and 1.90 WHIP would attest. His numbers with the White Sox were thrown out of proportion by a hideous, nine-hit, seven-run, four-inning stint against the Indians.

But opponents hit over .400 off his change-up, once his money pitch, and slugged .569 off his four-seam fastball.

“Last year was different,” he said. “I’m just trying to make better pitches and mixing them a little more. The game has changed. You have to use all your pitches. Early on I could get away with blowing guys up with the fastball. You learn as you get older.”

Santiago’s four-seamer averages between 91-92 mph and he still got a good 35 percent whiff rate with it. So it still plays.

“You try to learn every year and you try to do some things better,” he said. “I have more of a goal to mix in more cutters and more breaking balls early in counts, and then hopefully be able to put guys away with fastballs.”

The Tigers brought lefty Daniel Norris north at the beginning of last year as a long reliever. Injuries to starters Matt Moore and Tyson Ross thrust him into the rotation. Santiago and non-roster invitee Nick Ramirez would both be candidates to fill that type of role this season.

Twitter: @cmccosky