ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Ervin Santana reclamation project is off to a murky start.
Santana tantalized the Angels with brush strokes of dominance Wednesday, pounding a mid-90s fastball early and snapping off some diving sliders. Through three innings, he looked like the 2008 version of Santana, a young pitcher figuring out how to tame a dangerous league.
But then there were moments he couldn't put hitters away, and a mounting pitch count topped 100 in the sixth. There were a couple of hanging sliders that the Minnesota Twins pummeled over the fence. In the end, it was a 4-2 Angels loss, far from a satisfying night for the Angels pitcher who showed the most promise this spring.
Or was it something to build on?
"To me, it's a positive," Santana said. "I didn't get the support today, but I know if I keep pitching like that I'm going to win some games."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia also seemed encouraged by Santana's stuff. He mentioned the popping fastball and a slider thrown with good arm speed.
"The stuff he showed will play really well this year," Scioscia said.
The Angels no longer seem concerned about Santana's elbow. He missed the first five weeks of last season with soreness, then pitched tentatively for the first couple of months after his return. Scioscia allowed him to throw 105 pitches Wednesday in outing No. 1.
"That's long in the past," Scioscia said.
SCENE AND HEARD
Do they miss him? Yeah, but it's tough to tell how much after just three games. It's particularly tough since the Angels might be facing the best lineup in baseball here. Angels starters have allowed six home runs in three games, three of them to uber-hitters Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
Add up the height and distances of Morneau's two blasts and you get, roughly, the distance between Anaheim and Boston in the Lackey negotiations last winter.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"Even though it's early in the season, they want to get off to a good start and they're maybe squeezing the bats a little too hard." -- Scioscia on the Angels' 3-for-14 performance with runners in scoring position Tuesday and Wednesday
Neither of the Angels catchers is thrilled about being locked in a platoon. The best thing that can happen for Mike Napoli is for Hideki Matsui to play a little bit of outfield, freeing up designated hitter at-bats.
Napoli made his first start of the season Wednesday, going 1-for-4 with an RBI single. Scioscia tends to go with defense over offense and Napoli is in a throwing funk, so it looks like Jeff Mathis has an edge for playing time.
"That's one thing Mike's been working on is just making his throws," Scioscia said. "He rushed a couple of them."
He also is among the Angels' most powerful hitters and might be good for 30 home runs if he got regular playing time. Matsui is scheduled to make his outfield debut Thursday after being the DH the first three nights.
It's probably not a coincidence that Matsui's first start as an outfielder is scheduled on the night Joel Pineiro is pitching for the Angels. A sinkerball specialist, Pineiro is one of the extreme ground-ball pitchers in baseball. Matsui may not get much action. In one of his four spring training games in the outfield, Matsui didn't have a single ball hit to him.
Pineiro was impressive in spring training, going 4-0 with a 4.38 ERA.