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Phil Humber

Phil Humber (Photo Credit: Getty Images, By: Chris Trotman)

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By Chris Rongey–

CHICAGO (WSCR) Pitching around a walk and a single (that off the bat of Alex Rodriguez) in the 7th, and sitting at 100 pitches, it was clear that Phil Humber’s night had come to an end as he finished that inning with the no-hitter no longer in tact.

And for the first time since April 13th, it was time for the bullpen to do what it is primarily paid to do:  lock down close ballgames.  Chris Sale and Sergio Santos did just that.

Until that time, Humber was outstanding in his 7 innings pitched, 6 2/3 of which had come and gone without a base hit.  Humber located his fastball, had a curveball working, and fooled quite a few Yankees with a relatively new slider.  He was, for almost 7 frames, unhittable.  And in being such a pitcher in game 1 of a 4 game series in the Bronx, Humber made the status of Jake Peavy’s shoulder an afterthought.  For the night, at least.

The truth is, this 9-14 White Sox team really hasn’t missed Peavy all that much.  Not yet, anyway.  Certainly, you could say that none of the pitching problems the team has faced have come directly from his spot in the rotation; the spot currently filled by Humber.  Not one time, in this early part of the season, has anyone pined for a competent 5th starter in Peavy’s absence.  An indication that Humber has done, at the very minimum, an admirable job.  That’s all anyone could have reasonably expected.

While Sox fans should savor a wonderful start by Humber and a good victory over a pretty good New York team, we should all be careful to not let our enthusiasm get the best of us.  While it is not out of the question that Humber continues to perform as well as he has in his April starts, it is appropriate to keep in mind that it is still very much April and there are more than 5 months to go in this campaign.  He will struggle at some point this season.  The degree to which he struggles and the manor in which he handles those struggles are not yet known.  Humber may continue to surprise us all, and I hope that he does.

However, the truth is that the Sox are still a better team with a healthy Peavy.  Granted, we don’t know for sure how healthy he will be this season, but if he’s good to go, he makes the Sox more formidable.  In that case, all Phil Humber has done is give the White Sox a nice problem to have: too many capable starters and a little insurance policy.

And a new closer policy is what the Sox may have found in second-year reliever Sergio Santos who pitched 1 1/3 of an inning to earn his first save of the year for the Sox.  The idea of using Santos is not surprising given his excellent 0.00 ERA start to the season combined with his solid 2010 performance and the early issues for pre-season ordained closer Matt Thornton.  Santos is young, and remarkably inexperienced as a pitcher, but he’s got a live arm and has already seen success, though in limited professional experience as a pitcher (remember Santos had zero pitching experience until 2009 when he was converted from an infielder to reliever).

I have to admit I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen from Santos.  Throwing 16 pitches to retire 4 Yankees hitters over more than an inning of work in a 2-run game, is a nice way to be thrown into the fire.  Santos reacted to that fire as if his uniform was made of Nomex, and he did something the Sox have been able to do only one other time this year: save a game.

Now, it could be that fans are so starved for good bullpen work in a close, late game that they’ll latch onto just about anything that resembles a real closer.  Maybe Santos really is that guy.  But it is also prudent to remember that it was just one appearance, and one appearance cannot be extrapolated to determine a full season’s body of work.

Santos may very well do the job all year despite his inexperience, but there is reason to employ caution with that optimism.  He has the stuff to do it, will his mental makeup facilitate that?  I’ve seen nothing yet to suggest it won’t, but a baseball season is a long one, and much can, and will, happen along the way.

In the meantime, enjoy that splendid pitching performance from Monday and let’s hope there’s more where that came from.  What is evident is that the Sox pitching staff has taken a single step forward in settling in and they are a bit closer to having roles defined.  Let’s also hope that some lengthier strides are taken over the next several days.

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