"When the time comes, I'm ready for it," Santana said when asked about a likely bullpen shift for at least the first round of playoffs. "If that's where they need me, I have some experience doing it."
Not much, but some. Santana relieved the injured Bartolo Colon in the second inning to beat the Yankees with 5 1/3 innings of relief in the decisive fifth game of the 2005 American League Division Series. His only other relief appearance in the big leagues came 11 days ago, when pitched three scoreless innings in a 5-4 loss to the White Sox in Chicago.
"He's given us some pretty good starts," Scioscia said. "Long-range, he's absolutely a starting pitcher. But he does have the ability, as he's shown, to work out of the 'pen."
It appears likely the Angels will take a 10-man pitching staff into the first round of the playoffs, with right-handers John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver joining left-hander Joe Saunders in the probable rotation for the best-of-five series. Playoff rosters can be reset before the start of the American League Championship Series, but it seems unlikely Santana will see a starting assignment in his current state.
Rigid starting pitching is paramount once the playoffs begin, and Santana has devolved into a very beatable starter. Though he showed signs of turning the corner when he held Tampa Bay to one run in 6 1/3 innings in his previous outing, Monday's performance disappointed. Santana has won two of his last four starts, but they are his only two wins in 13 starts since June 15.
"We're going to have to look at a number of things," Scioscia conceded. "I think we have a lot of options. But we can really condense our staff for a short series, and there are a couple of different rosters we've looked at."
Santana gave up four RBIs to Michael Young in their first two confrontations on Monday night. Texas' All-Star shortstop greeted him with a run-scoring single in the first inning and a three-run homer in the third to stake the Rangers to an early 4-0 lead.
"His stuff was good," Scioscia said. "He made a couple of mistakes to Michael Young, but I thought his stuff was good."
Santana, speaking through interpreter Jose Mota, was quick to agree.
"I still don't feel good that we lost the game, but my pitches were there, my velocity was there," Santana said. "But it just wasn't always where I wanted it.
"Nobody's perfect. I just have to keep pitching."
Santana's teammates gave him a chance at redemption. After being held hitless for four innings by Rangers starter Armando Galarraga, the Angels jumped on the rookie right-hander for a five-run fifth. The barrage began with Howie Kendrick's RBI double, continued with a sacrifice fly by Chone Figgins and a run-scoring single by Orlando Cabrera, and was capped with a two-run homer by Casey Kotchman with two out and the count full. Kotchman's 11th homer of the season gave the Angels a 5-4 lead.
Santana, however, couldn't hold it for more than a few minutes. Rangers catcher Gerald Laird led off the bottom of the fifth with a triple up the gap in right-center field. And with one out, Texas cleanup hitter Marlon Byrd smacked a two-run homer to left that put the Rangers back on top, 6-5. Santana was done after giving up six runs on eight hits and needing 102 pitches to traverse five innings.
"Obviously, the results were not what we had hoped," Scioscia said, "but I wouldn't call it a step back."
Niceties aside, Santana did himself no favors Monday. Nor did reliever Chris Bootcheck, whose grip on a playoff roster spot remains tenuous at best. He took over for Santana in the sixth and gave up a one-out triple to Jarrod Saltalamacchia followed by an RBI single by Travis Metcalf. That gave Texas a 7-5 lead and swelled Bootcheck's ERA to 4.74.
Texas went up, 8-5, in the seventh, when reliever Jason Bulger gave up a two-out, RBI single to the .235-hitting Nelson Cruz. That proved to be an important run, keeping the Angels at bay even after Juan Rivera's two-run double in the eighth off Texas reliever Mike Wood.
The Angels were without the big bats of Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson, as Scioscia gave the veteran outfielders a night off following the team's festive overnight flight after clinching the American League West title on Sunday. A few more regulars will be rested in the coming days to help freshen the roster for the postseason grind ahead.
"Our first priority is to win games," Scioscia said. "But that's mixed with letting the guys we need to recharge getting off their feet a little bit, and trying to balance that with getting them enough at-bats to hopefully stay locked in."
It is a tricky and important week for Scioscia and his coaching staff. But for the few players whose playoff roles remain uncertain, performances in the coming days will make the final decisions easier. At least in that respect, Santana did his part Monday night.