TORONTO – The numbers five and six should be top of mind for Sergio Santos as he makes his return to the Blue Jays after a month in minor league purgatory.
The "five" is in reference to the number of weeks remaining in what, to this point, has been a season gone wrong for the 31-year-old right-hander. The "six" is the $6-million club option the Blue Jays hold on his services for 2015.
Pitch well in the final five and maybe, just maybe, he'll be back in Toronto at that $6-million number.
Perform like he did prior to his demotion and Santos is assuredly headed to free agency, where he's unlikely to find a deal as friendly as the pact for which he's striving.
"A humbling experience first," said Santos of being designated for assignment on July 21 and outrighted to the Bisons three days later. "It's been kind of refreshing at the same time. I think you take for granted how great it is up here sometimes and so to be down there for four weeks was kind of a big wake up call. It can be frustrating at times and good at times. Just happy it's over and getting another opportunity to get back up here."
Santos has work to do to chip away at an unsightly 7.78 ERA compiled before he was sent packing. His season never got on track. He missed the club's five-week hot stretch in May with a forearm strain. As his performance declined so did his role, going from a late-inning setup guy (the right role for someone with his fastball/slider combination) to a mop-up reliever who rarely got work.
"I don't think I ever lost any confidence," said Santos. "I think going down there and having consistent throwing where I was throwing every other day and it was just, you get in a rhythm, you get in a groove. Pitching is a lot about momentum and I built up some momentum because I was throwing on a consistent basis."
To Santos' credit, he went to Buffalo and didn't mope. In 11 appearances for the Bisons, a team making a charge for a playoff spot in the International League, he didn't allow an earned run and struck out 16 hitters in 10 2/3 innings. The adjustments, Santos said, were minor.
"After looking at some video my misses with fastballs were getting a little too much of the plate up here and so I focused on my misses being on the thirds of the plate as opposed to the middle and just getting ahead of hitters," said Santos.
When a player is designated for assignment, there's a three-day window during which he can be claimed on waivers by another team. That didn't happen with Santos, who remained in Toronto huddled with his wife and three children.
Despite what was said publicly, in advance of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline the budget-conscious ballclub would have been thrilled to be freed from the pro-rated amount owing on Santos' $3.75-million ticket.
Santos likely would have leapt at the opportunity for a fresh start.
It didn't happen.
"I think the hardest thing was explaining to my kids, when they were here, because they would know there's a Jays' game going on but I'm not going to the field and where am I going, what am I doing and so that was the hardest part, explaining to them where I was at," said Santos. "I think they just wanted to come to the kids' room and play here."
Now he must show he's turned the corner.
"Hopefully I can restore their confidence back in me with some good outings here," said Santos.