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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Updated: May 26, 9:54 AM ET
Angels must build on their effort

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ervin Santana was so good, the Los Angeles Angels never had to cart out their battered bullpen. They had the kind of night at the plate that offered a reprieve to the slumping hitters and more of the same to those on a tear.

But until the Angels prove they can do what they did Tuesday a few times in a row, their 8-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays isn't going to make anybody turn cartwheels in Anaheim. This is a team trying to compete for a championship, not throw an occasional after-party.

"This is what we need to do to get on a streak and win games, all of us playing together," catcher Mike Napoli said.

Santana isn't quite the power pitcher he was in his All-Star season of 2008, but even with about 3 mph off his best pitch, he is showing flashes of electricity. Santana (4-3) pitched his second complete game this year, both of them against the Blue Jays. He gave up three hits, all solo home runs. There's no shame in that since Toronto leads baseball by a wide margin in home runs.

Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana is quickly becoming the Angels' most reliable pitcher after Jered Weaver.

Without an overpowering fastball, it helps to have a devastating off-speed pitch. Santana used a sharp slider and dabbled with a changeup to strike out 10 batters. He walked just one. Santana's fastball averaged 95 mph in 2008, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia insists he has just as many weapons at his disposal even with a 91-92 mph fastball. The results are slowly coming along, with Santana emerging as the Angels' second-most reliable starting pitcher after Jered Weaver.

"This is not diminished stuff we're looking at," Scioscia said. "This is a guy who has terrific stuff. If he can maintain and pitch with what he has now for the rest of his career, he's going to have a great career."

Ricky Romero, who used to pitch a few exits up the 57 freeway at Cal State Fullerton, didn't look comfortable in his first start at Angel Stadium. The Angels blooped and bleedered him to death for a while, then Napoli brought out the loud stick later. The result was a 5 1/3-inning, 11-hit, seven-run performance from Romero, one of the best left-handers in the league.

The only hitter in the Angels' lineup to go hitless was Juan Rivera.

Slumps eased for Erick Aybar (2-for-4, two RBIs), Howie Kendrick (2-for-4, run, RBI) and Hideki Matsui (1-for-3, walk).

It seems like dazzling performances have been followed by duds all season long for this team, though. The Angels have had only one winning streak longer than three games this year. Inconsistency, not surprisingly, is the reason they've hovered under .500 since May began.

If you look closely, you can see signs of an emerging contender. The Angels have collected 56 hits in their past six games. Their starters have a 3.58 ERA in the past 18 games. Keep the middle relievers off the field and you've got a chance. But more than anything, prove you can repeat a good night. Otherwise, that's all it is.

"You've got to follow it up," Scioscia said. "If you're going to go out there and bring it one night and not bring it another night, you're naturally going to struggle. That's what we've seen through the first 50 games or so, but we have more in us."

Trends

If Napoli and Matsui keep swinging the bat the way they have, the Angels might have a difficult decision when Jeff Mathis comes off the disabled list in about 10 days.

Do they use Napoli at designated hitter and either sit Matsui on the bench or release him? Because of Napoli's prodigious power -- and his shaky defense behind the plate -- the Angels have envisioned him as a future DH, possibly as early as next season.

Napoli has been on fire, with home runs in four of his past five games, including Tuesday's sixth-inning shot off Romero. Five of his past 10 hits have been home runs and he has seven on the year. He's on a pace to surpass the Angels' record for home runs by a catcher (22).

Meanwhile, Matsui, who signed a one-year, $6 million deal in January, went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts and is batting .231.

On the other hand, the issue could be moot by then. Napoli is one of the streakiest hitters in the league. He is hitting .324 with 15 extra-base hits in May after batting .167 with one extra-base hit in April. As usual, the last thing a hot hitter wanted to talk about was his hitting.

"Just feeling comfortable, seeing the ball well," Napoli said.

Scene and heard

The Blue Jays' first reliever into the game had a familiar name to Angels fans. Josh Roenicke is Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke's nephew. Ron and his brother, Gary, both played in the major leagues in the 1980s.

Josh Roenicke played football and baseball at UCLA.

Quote of the day

"When they've got the good stuff, it's easy and it's so much fun back there. You can almost call anything at any time. He had everything going." -- Napoli on catching Santana's complete game.

Looking ahead

The Angels play their third 4:05 p.m. home game of the year Wednesday. Hitters were not big fans of the first two due to the shadows that creep across the field. The Angels had trouble picking up Jake Westbrook's sinker in an April 28 win, then they were stymied by David Price in a loss to Tampa Bay. Two passed balls in that game hurt the Angels.

Both starting pitchers Wednesday are former Seattle Mariners. Joel Pineiro (4-5, 5.00) pitches for the Angels after his worst start of the year, when he faced another former team, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Blue Jays will pitch Brandon Morrow (3-4, 6.80).

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.