Sunday, June 17, 2012
Will this be a turning point for Santana?
By Ramona Shelburne
Ervin Santana retired the first 20 batters he faced Saturday on his way to a one-hitter.
ANAHEIM -- It had been 20 minutes or so since Ervin Santana walked off the mound after taking a perfect game into the seventh inning and finished with a one-hit complete game shutout of the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday. Twenty minutes and here came the question that is always the question with Santana.
"Mike, is this the turning point for him?"
Mike would be Angels manager Mike Scioscia and as usual he was blunt.
"We'll see," he said. "As Ervin hopefully gets in those workouts between his starts and carries that same feeling through his next start, he could very easily get on a roll like he did last year."
Santana had a masterful night like this almost a year ago when he finished off a no-hitter of the Cleveland Indians as part of a five-game winning streak to turn around a 3-8 start to the year.
This season has gone about the same way with Santana entering Saturday's game with a 3-7 record, 5.74 ERA and facing the very real possibility of dropping out of the rotation once Jered Weaver returns from the disabled list. To be fair, the Angels didn't score in five of Santana's first six starts this year. But it's still fair to say he has been inconsistent enough that it was reasonable to wonder whether he might be moved to the bullpen for a stretch.
Although Scioscia has maintained the team was not yet seriously considering making that move, the fact that the question was being asked seriously says enough.
For all his talent, Santana wasn't putting it together. His fastball command was shaky and from there it's like a house of cards with all of his other pitches. The curveball becomes his best weapon, but teams sit on it. The change-up has nothing to play off of.
If there was a mechanical explanation, the Angels and Santana would have found it a long time ago.
No, this is just your garden-variety baseball story. The game is hard and inscrutable. One day you're great, the next you can't find your fastball. There is no light switch to turn on and off.
As Santana's catcher John Hester said Saturday night, "He's got a great arm. There's no reason for him not to be able to throw like that most times. I understand it's a tough game, but he's got it in him every time he steps on the mound."
So why doesn't he? If you can answer that you've probably got some insight into what the final scene of the Sopranos really meant, too.
After eight years in the majors, Santana probably is what he is: A really talented pitcher who can occasionally be great, mostly is solid and sometimes goes bad for a stretch.
He'd given up seven runs in each of his last two games. Then Saturday night he retired the first 20 batters he faced before yielding a two-out single to Justin Upton in the seventh inning and a four-pitch walk to Miguel Montero in the ninth.
How did that happen?
"To me it was bullpen sessions," Santana said. "The last bullpen I threw was very good. I just had to bring it to the games."
Saturday night he was great for very simple reasons. Right out of the gate Hester called for 14 straight fastballs. Santana found his command and flowed from there.
"That wasn't by design," Hester joked. "That was just me behind the plate calling 'em because I thought it was the best pitch. That's an aggressive team, but it doesn't mean you can't be aggressive with them."
It helped that Mark Trumbo staked the Angels to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first with a mammoth home run to left field.
Santana said he noticed the perfect game about the fifth or sixth inning, but he's not the superstitious sort.
"Not at all," he said. "I don't even know what I did before the game."
Santana is the third pitcher this season to be perfect through six innings. Matt Cain and Philip Humber finished those off, leading some to wonder if it's becoming a little too easy to throw one of those.
"I don't know if there's any rhyme or reason for it," Scioscia said. "Total offense is down, but I don't know if it's down because some guys are throwing no-hitters or some guys are throwing no-hitters because some guys aren't hitting."
He laughed as he finished the thought. Come on. This game is hard. There are no light-switches or corners to turn.
There's only what comes next. Who knows what that is for Santana?
"There's a lot of time left and we need him," Scioscia said. "Hopefully this is a good crossroads game for him to get back to where he can be."