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White Sox’ Sergio Santos becoming a close horse

White Sox closer Sergio Santos celebrates after final out ninth inning  against OaklMay 15 preserving 4-3 wfor Sox.

White Sox closer Sergio Santos celebrates after the final out of the ninth inning against Oakland on May 15, preserving a 4-3 win for the Sox. | AP Photo~Jeff Chiu

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Updated: September 29, 2011 12:28AM



Sergio Santos, how are you doing?

Same old, same old.

And this is a good thing?

Absolutely.

To hear bullpen coach Juan Nieves, who has closely monitored Santos’ ascension from converted shortstop to the White Sox’ closer in a matter of eight months, the most important lesson Santos has learned is to stay within himself.

“He hasn’t changed a bit. That’s the most impressive thing about him,’’ Nieves said. “He doesn’t need to do more and he knows that.’’

Santos took the opportunity to be the Sox closer and ran with it without trying to outpace Usain Bolt. His ­perfect ninth inning against the Red Sox in Boston on Wednesday gave Santos his ninth save in 10 opportunities. His 1.35 ERA and .146 batting average against rank first among major-league closers.

“One of the biggest challenges for a young pitcher is not trying to do too much,’’ Nieves said. “You don’t need a better slider, you don’t need a better changeup. You have enough. You have what you have that given day. Use it accordingly.’’

“Everything is the same,’’ Santos said. “I stay in the same routine, and I try to throw all three pitches just so I can get them thinking about the changeup, slider and the fastball.’’

Santos keeps his eyes and ears open. He listens to pitching coach Don Cooper and Nieves. He sought out Mariano Rivera when the Sox were in New York and picked the great one’s brain. And “since last year he’s been able to watch guys like [Bobby] Jenks and [Matt] Thornton,’’ Nieves said.

“They don’t look for more. The moment doesn’t take you to do more. That’s one of biggest things.’’

If anything has changed for the 27-year-old Santos, it’s his confidence. Santos looks as sure of himself as he did during spring training, when he didn’t allow a run, and his confidence has grown with each save.

“I mean, a lot,’’ he said. “I feel confident that I can go out there and get the job done. I am in a good place mentally.’’

Santos allowed four runs on five hits

in 11/3 innings in his only blown save on May 20 at U.S. Cellular Field He was one out away when Dodgers ninth-place hitter Russ Mitchell homered into the left-field corner.

That broke a streak of 20 scoreless innings to start the season, but Santos bounced back strong.

“And that’s commendable,’’ Nieves said.

Rebounding from the inevitable blown save was Santos’ toughest test. There will be more, and how closers recover is a litmus test for their effectiveness and longevity.

“It was good in the sense that I didn’t have to hear ‘19 scoreless, 20 scoreless,’ ’’ Santos said. “I just kind of ran that one out the window and it was like, OK, now I can get back to pitching, hitter to hitter and pitch to pitch.’’

Because of Santos’ inexperience, manager Ozzie Guillen continues to treat him with kid gloves, but the closer says he will work three consecutive days if needed.

“Absolutely, if the situation ever came up I’d be more than willing to get back out there and do my job,’’ Santos said. “My arm feels good, yeah. I think I do enough on and off the field to keep myself in a position to throw three days in a row.

“It’s one of those things you wouldn’t know till you got thrown out there. But I feel fine, I feel strong, so whatever situation presents itself I’d be ready to go and see if I can.’’



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