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Humber makes strong return in Game 1 win

September 5, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — In his first full season in the Major Leagues, right-hander Philip Humber has learned that it is just as much a mental grind as a physical one — if not more so — over the course of 162 games.

So while getting hit just above his right eye with a line drive and missing two weeks as a result was far from ideal, the time off may turn out to be just what Humber needed to get back to the way he pitched in the first half of the season.

In his first start since Aug. 18, Humber delivered his best outing of the second half as the White Sox picked up a 2-1 victory over the Twins in the first game of a split doubleheader on Monday.

“It feels like it’s been a year since I had a win,” Humber said. “The guys did a great job getting those runs early, and I just kind of got a lot of ground balls. It was a great feeling to have some success.”

With the win, the White Sox snapped a four-game losing streak and remained 8 1/2 games back of the first-place Tigers in the American League Central. Chicago has won four in a row at Target Field, its first four-game streak in Minnesota since May 23-July 1, 2004.

Humber tossed seven scoreless innings, giving up just six hits as he struck out six and did not walk a batter. While he allowed all of his baserunners over his last five frames, Humber allowed more than one batter to reach base just twice — in the third and seventh innings.

He did not have a good feel for his curveball, so Humber and White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski focused more on the slider, giving the Twins a different look than expected.

“He’s developed a really good slider. He didn’t have that pitch when he was with us,” said Luke Hughes, who played with Humber in the Twins’ system. “So he’s kind of stepped it up a little for sure. We talked about it at lunch today. That pitch has made him successful, and he’s had a great year.”

It was Humber’s first scoreless outing of seven innings or more, and his first win, since July 2 at Wrigley Field, when he held the Cubs without a run on just five hits over seven frames. Humber has gone seven or more scoreless innings three times this season, with the other instance being April 25 at Yankee Stadium.

Humber had his last start cut short after 1 1/3 innings when he was struck just above his right eye with a line drive off the bat of Kosuke Fukudome. In his previous six starts, Humber had gone 0-4 with a 7.16 ERA, giving up 22 earned runs in 27 2/3 innings.

In his first start since coming off the disabled list, Humber looked more like the pitcher that went 8-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 15 starts before the All-Star break.

“He seemed like he got it back,” said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. “All the time off and things, it seemed like he was stronger again.”

Humber will now look to build on this strong start over the final month of the season.

“I hope so, it’s a lot more fun getting them out than it is struggling to hold them,” Humber said. “Hopefully, just build off that and use that confidence into my next couple of starts.”

After being retired in order by Twins right-hander Anthony Swarzak in the first inning, the White Sox scored one run each in the second and third. Pierzynski led off with a double in the second and scored on Alejandro De Aza’s fielder’s choice.

In the third, Juan Pierre singled with one out, and Alexei Ramirez drove him in with a double down the left-field line.

Swarzak allowed just two runs on seven hits over eight innings of work, but he took the loss as the Twins could not provide any run support. Eight innings matched a career high for Swarzak, who struck out four batters without a walk.

Things got interesting in the ninth, when Sergio Santos came in after Matt Thornton got the first out of the inning, but Santos struggled and was removed in favor of Chris Sale. Santos allowed a walk, single and sacrifice fly, cutting the lead to one run, but Sale got the strikeout to end the ballgame.

Santos struggled for the second straight outing, but Guillen said he would stick with the right-hander in the closer’s role.

“It was more a gut feeling than anything. I wanted the matchup with Repko [against Sale],” Guillen said. “The last thing we wanted to do was lose a game like that.

“If we’ve got the same opportunity for Santos [in Game 2], he’s going to be back on the mound.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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