At the end of June, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tony Santillan met with Reds manager David Bell, pitching coach Derek Johnson and GM Nick Krall about what the rest of his season would look like.
Santillan, the Reds No. 9 prospect at the time, had filled in the Reds’ starting rotation in June and posted a 3.78 ERA with 20 strikeouts in four starts. But when the rotation got a few starters back from the injured list, Santillan was optioned to Triple-A.
Before he left for Louisville, the Reds coaching staff and front office told him that he’d be a relief pitcher going forward this season. Santillan had never pitched out of the bullpen before, but he said was on board with the move.
Since the Reds called him back up to MLB, he has been one of their best relief pitchers. Since July 23, Santillan has a 0.44 ERA. In September, Santillan has only allowed three total hits in 11 ⅔ scoreless innings.
“I didn’t have any expectations of how it was going to be or how it was going to feel,” Santillan said. “It was all new to me, and it was just learning on the fly by watching some of the older guys and seeing how they go about their business. I’m just pounding the zone a little more, getting more success being in the zone.”
This month, Santillan has earned the opportunity to pitch in more important situations out of the bullpen. In Friday’s 8-7 victory over the Washington Nationals, Santillan pitched a scoreless sixth inning.
Santillan is averaging nearly two strikeouts per appearance in September, and his fastball-breaking ball combination has immediately translated into the bullpen.
“He has a great arm, he has the stuff, and he’s not afraid of any situation,” Bell said. “He’s very aggressive and tough, and he wants the ball all the time. That would be great as a starter, and we’ve seen it really help him as a reliever. He wants to be out there no matter the spot. I don’t think we can go wrong either way.”
Before this season, Santillan had been a starting pitcher for his entire professional career. The Reds have a track record of converting former starting pitchers into relievers, with Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims finding more success out of the bullpen.
Santillan said his focus is on the way he finishes the season. At the end of the year, he anticipates a similar conversation with the Reds coaching staff and front office to the one that he had in July.
“Once the season’s over, I’m sure we’ll all sit down as a group and discuss what the future is and go from there,” Santillan said. “But right now, I’m focused on finishing the year strong and seeing what happens.”
WARREN’S WORLD: After missing nearly two months with an oblique injury, Reds reliever Art Warren admitted that he was curious to see how well he could pitch when he came off the injured list last week.
Since then, Warren has pitched 4 ⅓ scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. In the Reds win over the Nationals on Friday, Warren pitched a scoreless 11th inning and recorded two strikeouts to pick up his fourth big league win.
Warren had limited MLB experience before this season, but he has a 1.45 ERA in 23 games with the Reds in 2021.
“It gives me confidence, personally, knowing that (Bell) can go to me in (important) situations,” Warren said. “I like that the pitching coach, Derek Johnson, has trust in me as well. Personally I think it’s benefitting me going 5-of-5 in outings since I’ve been back. I like to kind of get rolling, get in the groove of things.”
RUNNING AWAY: The St. Louis Cardinals are in the middle of a historic winning streak to pull away in the NL Wild Card race. Entering Saturday night, the Cardinals had won 14 consecutive games and taken a six-game lead over the Reds.
On Friday, the Cardinals swept the Cubs in a doubleheader for their 13th and 14th straight wins. In the second game, the Cardinals tied the franchise record with their 14th consecutive win, matching a winning streak from 1935. The Cardinals winning streak is the longest winning streak in September by any franchise since Cleveland won 15 straight games in 2017.