ARLINGTON -- Ron Washington fully expected veteran southpaw Matt Thornton to be closing out victories for the White Sox if they took a lead against his Rangers into the ninth inning during this opening three-game series.
So, Hector Santiago, the chosen rookie closer at the outset of the 2012 season, wasn't surprised that the Rangers looked a little surprised in the home dugout when he entered Saturday to lock down a 4-3 White Sox victory.
"I got up there and I started warming up," said Santiago, recounting the ninth-inning tale one day after pitching a perfect ninth for his first career save. "And in between warmup pitches, I looked over to them, and they were all kind of up on the top step seeing what I have or whatever they were looking at.
"They were probably wondering who I am and, 'Who is this guy? I've never heard of this guy.' They didn't remember I started against them in Spring Training."
Santiago actually threw two scoreless innings during a Cactus League start against the Rangers in Surprise, Ariz., on March 8, a start in which he struck out both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz with his screwball. That scoreless effort was part of the progression taking Santiago from a pitcher simply trying to make the team in early February to the club's last line of pitching defense.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura reiterated Sunday that Santiago will have the ninth inning, unless he needs some sort of respite. And the 24-year-old with 6 1/3 innings of big league experience is ready for the challenge.
"I'm just going to try to not even worry about the situation," Santiago said. "I'm going to go out there like it's a regular inning.
"It's a big situation, but I'm just going to go out there and go after guys and not change anything or think about anything too much. Attack hitters and hopefully keep going."
When Santiago spoke with the media Thursday and talked about looking for entrance music, he already knew that the closer's job belonged to him for the immediate future. He didn't guess at a definitive reason as to why the White Sox wanted to keep it secret, aside from possibly keeping the other team thinking, but he certainly was going to play his part and not destroy the dream before it began.
All 23 of his Minor League appearances last season came as a starter, meaning Santiago never expected to record his first Major League save before his first win.
"No, I definitely didn't think that was going to happen," a smiling Santiago said. "My whole goal coming to spring was just to make the team.
"Then, with them giving me the opportunity to actually go out there and finish the game in Spring Training and then finish it in Houston ... then named as the closer yesterday, it's a little surreal."
Rios comfortable defensively back in right field
ARLINGTON -- White Sox outfielder Alex Rios certainly won't attribute his 2011 offensive struggles to holding down a center-field spot in which he didn't feel comfortable defensively. But Rios looks more at home in right, where he has played 722 of his 1,128 career games in the field, and has gotten the good jumps in the season's first two games to support this theory.
"Yeah, the transition is a little harder from right to center than it is from center to right, and I've played there for a few years," Rios said. "So, it feels more like home.
"You always separate defense from offense. But on defense, I feel more comfortable overall in right."Rios came up with a diving catch in the fourth inning of Sunday's 5-0 loss to Texas, robbing Michael Young of an extra-base hit.
Team wins remain starters' No. 1 goal
ARLINGTON -- John Danks and Jake Peavy both came away with quality starts in their trips to the mound to begin the 2012 season against the Rangers but finished with a loss and a no-decision, respectively. Individual victories often serve as the judgment of success for rotation members, but it's the team chance for victory driving the White Sox hurlers.
"In the grand scheme, it's how well we play in my games," Danks said. "The overall team win/loss is the most important. Individual wins, there is so much that goes into those. I personally don't think you can judge someone's year based solely on wins and losses.
"They are a sexy stat, no doubt. But you can back into a few wins and you can throw well and not get wins."
Peavy struggled over his first three innings, before settling down over the next three frames and giving the White Sox a chance to win on Alex Rios' ninth-inning homer Saturday. Danks was solid for six innings on Friday, but in his case, the White Sox lacked the clutch hitting to get him off the hook.
"I'm pleased for the first start doing what I did," Danks said. "I wish I could have gone deeper, but I gave the team a chance to win.
"I would like the pitch to [Ian] Kinsler that he hit a home run on back. I would like a better effort whenever we tied the game up and went right back out there and gave it right back. That one stung a little bit."
Ventura understands mentality of long season
ARLINGTON -- On Friday night, following a one-run loss, fans had the White Sox pegged for a rebuilding year. On Saturday, following a one-run victory, fans moved to cautiously optimistic about this team being more than a .500 group. And on Sunday night, following a 5-0 Rangers win, doubt once again set in for the season.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura is a former standout player, so he knows about the transition from baseball mentality to football mentality in regards to the schedule.
"As players, you look back over your career and I've been on teams that started 6-0 and didn't do too well," Ventura said. "So you control your own emotions of listening to that stuff or believing in that stuff and just focus on the playing part and staying day to day with our own attitude instead of worrying about what someone else thinks."
Third to first
White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn dropped off a bottle of champagne to his manager, Robin Ventura, in honor of his first managerial victory. Ventura received many texts and calls after the win, but didn't know what happened to the lineup card. The game ball went to Hector Santiago for his first career save.
"I have my hat, it smells like beer, so I'm going to have to get another hat," Ventura said. "Hector has the ball. I don't know where the lineup card went. I have a smelly hat. That's what I got. They washed the uniform. Maybe they can wash my hat."
Ventura had his first "discussion" with umpires last night as a manager, having a third-inning balk call against Jake Peavy explained to him. The even-keel White Sox manager stayed calm and cool during the talk, but certainly could see an argument some day that led to an ejection.
"Getting kicked out? Yeah, I've been kicked out of games as a player," Ventura said. "It's not like it would be the first time, so it's part of being a competitor, the emotions that you have.
"I'm here to protect players, too. That's part of the job. It's nothing personal against an umpire or this or that. It's just part of the game."
Although he has used three different No. 2 hitters in three games, Ventura said that job still belongs to Brent Morel when he is in the lineup. The White Sox bullpen was unscored upon over 7 1/3 innings in the Texas series. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hector Santiago became the first rookie since the save rule went into effect in 1969 to save his team's first win of the season for a first-year manager.