Santos bringing the heat to Sox bullpen

April 24th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Scott Merkin’s White Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- I drive a 2002 Sebring convertible. Actually, it might be a 2001 -- I’ve had it for more than two decades, so I don’t remember the exact year of purchase. It only has around 74,000 miles for those who are wondering.

But, needless to say, I’m rather shocked or taken aback when friends or acquaintances talk about their cars hitting over 100 mph on certain occasions. There’s a 100 mph on my Sebring’s speedometer, but at this point, it’s more for show.

A similar level of shock hit me upon watching White Sox reliever Gregory Santos throwing consecutive pitches at 102.3 mph and 103.1 mph during the seventh inning of an extra-inning loss to the Rays on Saturday. They were the first two pitches against Randy Arozarena, who was the last hitter Santos faced over two scoreless innings.

Those two pitches rank at one and two in White Sox history, per Statcast, in regard to highest pitch velocity. In fact, Santos has seven of the eight fastest pitches thrown, all of course coming this season, with Thyago Vieira checking in at No. 3 on a 102.2 mph pitch from 2019.

“It feels very good,” said a smiling Santos, through interpreter Billy Russo. “When I turned to the scoreboard and saw 103 [mph], I said, ‘[Wow], that’s good.’”

Santos has struck out 12 batters over 11 innings with three walks and three earned runs allowed. His velocity is next-level impressive, but the right-hander also has shown pitchability over his nine appearances.

Manager Pedro Grifol saw Santos, the pitcher, on display vs. Santos, the hard thrower, during different stages of his 21-pitch performance Saturday.

“You see the guy that pitched to the first hitter, was 95-96 and 87 mph slider, and then you watch the same guy, young kid, grow in one outing to 103 and 95 mph slider to finish [his] second inning,” Grifol said. “The growth that he had in a Major League game was really nice.

“It’s just starting to add a little piece to what I think is going to end up being a really really good bullpen. And it really already is. When you add that kind of arm to the bullpen we have, that’s really good.”

Moving into higher leverage roles could be possible for Santos, 23, but he also has the ability to work multiple innings as he has shown through three two-inning outings. But even as he develops as a pitcher, the question of being able to top 103.1 mph is a logical follow-up.

“We’ll see,” Santos said. “I’m definitely feeling good and taking advantage of every opportunity.”