If Gregory Santos’ elbow inflammation is minor, then you can look at the bright side: He didn’t need another game or inning to record a full season’s worth of work, and he didn’t need a hot last two weeks to salvage his stats. He was one of the few 2024 White Sox who could say he’d already done enough.
The White Sox cut Santos’ season short on Wednesday by placing him on the injured list with a sore elbow, reinstating Garrett Crochet to fill the vacancy in the bullpen. He’ll finish the year having thrown 66⅓ innings over 60 appearances, with a 3.39 ERA and 66 strikeouts against just 22 free bases (17 walks, five HBPs). He’d never thrown 50 innings in a season before, and he had fewer than six MLB innings to his name, so this season counts as an unqualified success, at least in terms of results.
The only potential qualifier is the elbow, and Pedro Grifol couldn’t offer many specifics on the severity of the injury.
“He’s had a good year. And he’s got a little bit of a right elbow inflammation,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “We’ll just err on the side of caution and shut him down for the rest of the year and let the doctors continue to evaluate him.
“The reports that I got is that there’s some discomfort in the right elbow, he’s going to get evaluated and we’ll take it from there.”
Any kind of lingering effects would deal a severe blow to the 2024 White Sox bullpen, because … well, what exactly is the 2024 White Sox bullpen? Based on the talent on hand, it looks something like:
- Gregory Santos
- Aaron Bummer (unless a team makes a compelling buy-low offer)
- Garrett Crochet (unless the White Sox try making him a starter)
- Michael Kopech (if he’s not completely lost)
- Long reliever
- Long reliever
- Long reliever
- Long reliever
The ramifications of a Santos-less stretch don’t require much elaboration, unless Brian Bannister really is some kind of sorcerer.
For the time being, Santos’ absence removes one of the few aspects that held my interest: Grifol’s deployment of him in high-leverage situations.
Grifol stopped short of committing to Santos as the closer after the Sox sent Kendall Graveman to Houston at the trade deadline, which was understandable even if he was the team’s best reliever remaining. Keeping the ninth inning a slightly open question prevented Santos from being irregularly used, or dealing with unnecessary pressure toward the end of his first-ever six-month season. Blown saves are sometimes automatically assigned as a “mentality” issue when, here, it could be more attributable to things like “fatigue” or “being a rookie.” Nobody should go out of their way to ruin a reputation on a failed venture like the 2023 White Sox.
But when Grifol used Santos to close out games, he didn’t use Santos like a typical closer.
Santos pitched in six save opportunities since the start of August, and a seventh game required a fireman effort of closing out an inning before it descended into savedom. In five of those games, Grifol called upon Santos in the eighth inning.
- Aug. 9: An eighth-inning appearance became a two-inning save when the White Sox scored four in the top of the ninth.
- Aug. 15: Santos entered with one out in the eighth and retired all five Cubs he faced on 16 pitches.
- Aug. 20: Not a save, but Santos stranded two runners in the eighth to preserve the White Sox’s five-run margin, then finished the game.
- Aug. 23: Santos entered with two outs in the eighth to strand a runner on first, then gave up three runs in the ninth to blow the save.
- Sept. 12: Santos entered to strand inherited runners on the corners in the eighth, then preserved the four-run lead in the ninth.
That’s five long saves over the course of a month and a half. By comparison, Liam Hendriks pitched 10 outings longer than an inning in 2021, before arm issues/undiagnosed cancer affected his stamina.
It’s an unusual usage pattern for a closer, but typical for how Grifol had used Santos the whole season, so I was curious whether Grifol was trying to make a point with it. Was it to let Santos treat save situations as any other appearance, figuring he’d be back to that kind of work in 2024? Does he want to train a closer to record more than three outs, and wanted to see if Santos could be that guy?
Based on how Grifol used Reynaldo López in April, my guess is that he’s open to expanding the role. López recorded two four-out saves in April before it became clear that López wasn’t good enough to face the other team’s best hitters in the toughest situations every. single. outing. When Grifol started giving the ball to Graveman, he mostly adhered to strict one-inning appearances, in line with Graveman’s routine the year before.
It seems like if a pitcher is used to recording more than three outs, Grifol won’t let the closer role interfere with that ability. I don’t mind it, but the tradeoff here is that Santos’ first exposure to the closer role regularly involved situations that most established closers don’t face, which upped the degree of difficulty. I was hoping the last couple weeks would beef up the sample a little bit, but the injury might not have made much of a difference. Shortly before Santos was placed on the IL, Vinnie Duber said Grifol was going to back off Santos in hopes of easing him to the finish line.
“I’m not going to try to use him that much,” Grifol said over the weekend. “He says he feels good every day. ‘I want to pitch, I want to pitch.’ But he’s pitched a lot, and he’s pitched a lot well over what he’s pitched in the past and he’s done it at (the major league) level. We’re definitely going to protect him down the stretch here, for sure.”
Alas, now we’re left to see whether Santos’ injured list stint counts as protection, if the injury is a consequence of protecting him too late, or if it’s just bad luck.