MESA, Ariz. -- Ervin Santana answers to "Magic," but it has nothing to do with the 24-year-old Angels right-hander throwing fastballs and breaking balls past hitters. Santana, it turns out, has been "Magic" since his high school days in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. It seems he had a nice flair for the sport once enriched by Earvin "Magic" Johnson. "I played basketball in high school and was pretty good, so they started calling me 'Magic,'" Santana said, nodding when asked if he made all-city and all-district teams. "I played center -- scored some points, got rebounds, blocked a couple of shots a game. I loved it."
Santana was a magic man Sunday at HoHoKam Park, working four perfect innings before surrendering a long homer to Cliff Floyd -- the only run he yielded in 6 1/3 innings of four-hit work, striking out four hitters while walking one. "I'm just trying to be good every outing," said Santana, who has pitched superbly in five of six spring appearances, giving up six of his 10 earned runs in 24 2/3 innings in one game against the Padres. Putting his fastball in good spots and getting nice bite on his slider, Santana also kept hitters off balance with a changeup he said he's confident throwing in any count. "I'm almost ready," Santana said, referring to his season debut April 4 against Texas in Anaheim. "Just one more [tuneup]." He'll pitch in the Freeway Series against the Dodgers on Friday night in Los Angeles. And, no, basketball was never a career option. Realizing there wasn't much of a future for 6-foot-2 pivot men, Santana focused his energies on baseball, evolving last season into a 16-8 artist in 33 starts for the Angels with a 4.28 ERA -- and even better things on the horizon. Down the stretch: The battle for possibly two roster spots in the outfield figures to go down to the wire among a foursome of quality candidates -- and poker-faced manager Mike Scioscia isn't tipping his hand on favorites. Tommy Murphy, Reggie Willits and Curtis Pride are familiar to Angels fans, each having made appearances in Anaheim. They're joined by slugging Nick Gorneault, who has had the best spring of the four in terms of offensive production. Murphy and Willits are generally viewed as basically the same player -- versatile enough to play all three outfield roles; blessed with strong, accurate arms; fast, switch-hitters with good baserunning instincts.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.