PITTSBURGH — Five years ago, Edgar Santana had never played organized baseball. Saturday afternoon in the Pirates’ 7-6 win over the Miami Marlins, he pitched in the major leagues and retired one of the best hitters to play the game.
Santana was signed as a 22-year-old prospect by the Pirates in 2013, an almost-unheard-of age. Most prospects are signed as teenagers. But after a scout saw him knock a coconut out of a tree with a rock, Santana starting challenging people’s preconceived notions about how much age matters when it comes to being a baseball prospect.
In his fourth professional season — or any season, for that matter — Santana made his major-league debut for the Pirates, fulfilling his dream and silencing those critics in one fell swoop.
“I feel very proud of myself,” Santana said. “One of the things that kept me going every day was the people that said, ‘You’re not going to make it. You’re not going to sign because you’re too old. You’re not going to get to the big leagues.’ I stayed patient. I did my job. I did everything I had to do be better every day. I believed in myself. I knew I would get to the big leagues.”
But even though he had that belief and that determination throughout the process, it was still a surreal feeling when he got the call late Friday night that he was going to Pittsburgh.
“It was a little crazy,” Santana said. “My first call was my mom. It was late in the night. She’s always asleep early. But I called her like four times and she woke up and they threw a party back home when I said I’m going to the big leagues.”
Santana isn’t convinced that his mother has slept since. He woke up to a message from her this morning and got another after the game ended, showing his family and people in his hometown watching the game. Those are the people who were on his mind when he walked out to the bullpen at PNC Park for the first time.
“I was like, ‘I can’t believe it. … I’m in the big leagues. I’m in the show,’” Santana said. “It was very cool to see my dreams come true.”
Of course, just being there was only part of the dream. He wanted to pitch, too. Luckily, he didn’t have to wait very long. Manager Clint Hurdle called on Santana in the fifth inning with the Pirates trailing by two runs — a low-leverage situation perfectly suited to break in a rookie pitcher.
But the matchup Santana faced was anything but easy. His first batter was 43-year-old Marlins right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Suzuki has 3,044 hits in his major-league career and is probably going to be in the Hall of Fame some day. That was not something Santana had in his head when he was dreaming of his first major-league pitch.
“I was an honor to face that kind of hitter,” Santana said. “Before my first pitch, I was a little scared. I was like, ‘Oh my God. It’s Ichiro.’”
The first pitch was a 95 MPH four-seam fastball that came in low and inside on Suzuki. He took it for a called strike.
“After the first pitch, I said to myself, ‘I got this. I can make outs,’” Santana said.
The second pitch was another fastball, this one at 96 MPH with a tail to the outside part of the plate. Suzuki rolled it over to first base.
Rookie 1, Legend 0
The rest of Santana’s first outing didn’t go quite as smoothly. Two balls found their way past David Freese at third base and went for doubles into the left field corner and the Marlins scored a run. But Santana’s fastball was crisp, he threw it for strikes and he got some swings-and-misses with his slider.
“I liked what I saw from Santana,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I thought he came in and did a real nice job. … Even though they scored a run, it was a real nice performance.”
Hurdle also added that Santana’s success is a success for the organization. After all, the same naysayers that doubted Santana were by extension casting doubt on the Pirates’ decision to sign him.
“Another debut for us,” Hurdle said. “We’ve been racking them up the last two years. We’re getting to see our guys, these kids that have worked hard and people have poured into them.”
MORE ON THE ‘PEN
After the Pirates’ took a late lead on a seventh-inning pinch-hit double by John Jaso, it gave Hurdle his first chance to roll out the new-look back of his bullpen.
Juan Nicasio started the eighth and gave up two hits while striking out two, setting up a battle with lefty Dee Gordon at the top of the Marlins’ lineup. Hurdle decided to flip the switch at that point and brought in Rivero for a four-out save.
Rivero was flat-out unhittable, striking out three of the four hitters he faced to collect his first Pirates save. But Hurdle said he’s going to continue to use Rivero where he needs him and not keep him chained to the ninth inning.
“We’re going to use the bullpen to win games, not count saves,” he said. “It matched up in a very similar fashion as it has earlier in the game to this point.”
Rivero said there isn’t really anything different about what he’s doing now, splitting the late innings with Nicasio, than when he was pitching in the seventh or eighth innings earlier this season.
“You have to be ready, just in case anything happens,” he said. “[Nicasio] got in trouble. I had to pick him up.”
ON THE REBOUND
After a disastrous start to his season and the loss of most of his playing time to Adam Frazier, Jaso has quietly turned things around. He’s now has a .236/.390/.329 line for a .719 OPS. Considering he had a .143/.265/.238 line at the end of April, it’s a pretty dramatic comeback.
“Some times you just have to give a man a chance to work,” Hurdle said. “He’s been in a good place. Those are big swings. They’re late in the game, too.”
Josh Bell went 3 for 5 with a run and his first major-league triple. … Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 4 with two doubles, crossing the 500 extra-base hit plateau. He is the eighth Pirates player to do so. … Elias Diaz had his first career three-hit game. He went 3 for 3 with a walk ahead of Jordy Mercer’s game-tying triple in the seventh. … Trevor Williams gave up five runs in four innings, including back-to-back home runs in the fourth after the Pirates had tied the game.