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Big sigh of relief: Santos earns spot with Sox
By Scot Gregor | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/31/2010 12:00 AM

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GLENDALE, Ariz. - After realizing his ultimate professional dream Tuesday, Sergio Santos' emotions ran amok.

The former infielder claimed the final spot on the White Sox' 25-man roster as a relief pitcher, and he had plenty of calls to make after a blurry morning workout at Camelback Ranch.

How did they go?

"From my mom and wife, a lot of crying," Santos said. "From my dad and my two brothers, just a lot of joy and a lot of pride. They are very proud of me. It's a very emotional day. I'm happy to have it."

And a bit stunned as well.

Well aware the Sox were paring their roster from 32 to the season-opening limit, Santos wasn't sure what to think when he was called in to meet with general manager Kenny Williams, manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper.

"I was nervous walking into that room," Santos admitted. "In this sport you never know what can happen. The second (Williams) said to go to Chicago, it really hit me. And it was like, OK, we are finally doing it."

With a fastball that regularly touches 98 mph and a developing slider and changeup, the 26-year-old Santos impressed the White Sox' staff from the early days of training camp.

When he opened with 5 straight scoreless appearances in the Cactus League, Santos' stock really soared. And it didn't dip enough is his last 2 exhibition outings (3 runs in 21/3 innings) to cost the right-hander a shot at the major leagues.

"Last year right around this time we were just carrying this guy because he couldn't play infield," Guillen said. "I talked to him and said, 'Santos, you don't have one year of pitching.

"You've only had a few months pitching. I think the reason we keep you is because we know you can help us win games. This is not the Instructional League; this is not a development situation.

"Our job is to try to win this division, try to win everything. Don't feel like we kept you because we didn't have any choice. I think you earned it.'

"He pitched very, very well, and that's the reason he's here."

Santos is in, but the Sox had to cut seven players to get down to 25.

Starting pitcher Daniel Hudson, infielder Brent Lillibridge and outfielder Alejandro De Aza were optioned to Class AAA Charlotte. Right-handed pitcher Daniel Aquino, who pitched 101/3 scoreless innings this spring, was reassigned to minor-league camp, as were left-handers Erick Threets and Charlie Leesman.

"The people we sent down last, they did a great job for us in spring training," Guillen said. "They came ready to work and impressed a lot of people. That's the reason they were the last guys to get sent down. It's never going to be easy, but I think this year was easier than in the past."

Nothing has come easy for Santos.

Selected in the first round of the 2002 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder also played minor-league baseball for Toronto, Minnesota, San Francisco and the White Sox.

After playing 771 games as an infielder while batting .248 and making 162 errors, Santos took up pitching at the start of last season and was 0-3 with an 8.16 ERA in 26 games with Class A Kannapolis, A Winston-Salem, AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte.

He was understandably raw, but Santos worked hard at his new craft and it quickly paid off.

"I'm thanking my lucky stars every day," said Santos, who is out of minor-league options. "I had my mom praying just in case for backup. It's nice that when you work so hard for something to kind of be rewarded at the end of the day.

"I know there are so many people deserving of that same thing, but it just doesn't happen. So I'm definitely thankful and very appreciative that I've been given the opportunity."