I stand corrected.
For much of the season, while trying to put Phil Humber’s remarkable rise into perspective, I used Esteban Loaiza as a comparison.
It seemed like a natural link, considering Loaiza was a starting pitcher with intriguing yet unfulfilled potential when he showed up at the White Sox’ training camp with little fanfare in the spring of 2003.
Taking it a step further, Loaiza signed a $500,000 contract with the Sox on Jan. 24 of ’03.
Humber signed an identical $500,000 deal on Jan. 18 after being claimed off waivers from Oakland.
Loaiza had an amazing season with the White Sox in 2003, going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA while finishing second in American League Cy Young Award voting.
Humber isn’t even halfway through his debut season with the Sox, but the right-hander is 7-3 with a 2.90 ERA as he prepares for Sunday afternoon’s interleague start against Livan Hernandez and the Nationals at U.S. Cellular Field.
“He’s pushing for the All-Star Game,” Mark Buehrle said. “With the wins, his ERA, the WHIP (0.98) and everything else he has going on, I think he deserves it.”
Getting back to Loaiza, he not only made the AL all-star team in 2003, he started the game played at U.S. Cellular Field.
But enough with the comparisons, because it’s not fair to Humber.
No offense to Loaiza, but he never recaptured that one season of magic.
On July 31, 2004, the pitcher and his 4.68 ERA were traded to the Yankees for Jose Contreras.
Loaiza bounced around for four more seasons and was a combined 27-27 while pitching for the Yankees, Nationals, A’s, Dodgers and a final stint with the White Sox as a reliever.
“I don’t want to say he got lucky or he had that big (2003) season because of a trick pitch,” one major-league hitter said, “But he came up with a cutter that year and he was running it in to left-handers and away from right-handers, and you just don’t see that pitch. And after (’03), he couldn’t throw it anymore.”
There are no gimmicks with the 28-year-old Texan, who was drafted No. 3 overall by the Mets in 2004.
Humber said being picked so high created pressure he wasn’t initially able to handle, and then he had to deal with Tommy John elbow surgery in ’05.
Those are the two reasons why the former Rice University all-American went from the Mets to the Twins to the Royals to the Athletics before Sox general manager Kenny Williams wisely claimed him off waivers.
“I can’t thank the White Sox enough for giving me the opportunity,” the soft-spoken Humber said. “It was a tough road getting here, and I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot along the way.
“But by no means do I think I’ve earned my spot here. I’m not really focusing on what’s happened results-wise so far. It’s more of making sure you’re prepared and if you are, it should give you a lot of confidence.”
Not only has Humber been prepared for each and every one of his 15 appearances (13 starts) this season, his ability to throw four premium pitches — fastball, curveball, changeup and slider — should ultimately separate him from Loaiza.
“He was a really high draft pick, so obviously there were a lot of people that saw the talent and the arm,” Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. “So it’s not like he totally came from out of the blue. But breaking into the big leagues, it’s a numbers game and sometimes, if you don’t get off to a good start, if things don’t go your way, you get shuffled around kind of quick.”
Fortunately for the White Sox, Humber shuffled right into their laps.
“He’s got a lot of weapons,” Konerko said. “And his command had been good. You put those weapons together with the command and you get what you’re getting. And it’s not like, ‘Let’s see how he does the rest of the season or even next year.’
“He’s got really good stuff that works well when you’re hitting your spots. And he’s hitting his spots. There’s no reason why he can’t be a really good big-league pitcher for a long time.”
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