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Santana looks to get 'even' results
Santana looks to get 'even'
By Lyle Spencer
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ervin Santana doesn't pay much attention to statistics, he maintains, but he does find it a little odd that even-numbered years have been his best.
"Yes, 2006 was good, 2008 was very good," he said. "Not as good were the other years. I don't know why. All I know is I want to pitch better than 2008. That's my goal."
If Santana succeeds in his mission in 2010, the Angels will be getting a huge season out of the 27-year-old native of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic.
Santana missed the first five weeks last season with a sprained right elbow and only periodically found the stuff that had made him an All-Star in 2008.
"Ervin feels very strong," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said on Thursday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, where Santana pitched eight minutes of live batting practice for the first time this spring. "He's going through his progressions.
"The ball looks like it's coming out of his hand better than at any time last year. We want to keep him on pace. It's important for any pitcher coming back from an injury to keep that governor on him and go through that progression. We expect to see better stuff when he gets back on the mound this spring [in Cactus League play]."
Struggling to catch up after his late start last season, Santana finished 8-8 with a 5.03 ERA, making 23 starts and pitching 139 2/3 innings.
"My velocity wasn't the same," he said. "I was 89 to 92. When I feel good, I can go from 94, 95, up to 98 sometimes. Big difference.
"It was very hard to catch up last year. As a pitcher, you want to do a great job every time out. But if you're not healthy, you're not going to perform."
Pitching coach Mike Butcher encouraged Santana by underscoring the positives in his season, and the pitcher took those thoughts home to the Dominican Republic for his usual winter of running and throwing first off flat ground and then the mound.
"Talking to Mike," Santana said, "he told me he was proud of me. I didn't have my velocity but pitched to both sides of the plate and had good location. Sometimes you don't have to throw too hard.
"Even though I was hurt, I won eight games and finished strong. So, for me, it was a good season."
Santana has a full repertoire: four-seam fastball, two-seamer, slider, curveball, changeup. He'd like to add a cut fastball while refining his two-seamer and change.
"It's good to have a lot of pitches for the hitter to think about," he said, grinning.
Scioscia could sense the pitcher's frustration at times last season, but the Angels struggled with putting together a rotation through a turbulent five months and even at 80-90 percent efficiency, Santana was better than other alternatives.
He went to the disabled list a second time in June for 19 days with right forearm stiffness, unrelated to the elbow sprain.
"There were a couple of times when his stuff picked up toward the end [of the season] that was much closer to where he was [in '08]," Scioscia said. "But he never showed that electric stuff of the year before.
SANTANA'S ROLLER COASTER
"There were probably a number of reasons for it. What he had was treatable, but any time you're impacting your elbowing, it's obviously significant. He had enough to pitch. When Ervin was at 90, 91 with his slider sharp, that's enough to compete. But the results aren't the same as when he's sitting at 91 to 93, hitting 95.
"If he gets back to '08, he's going to have a good season."
That was when Santana had the distinct look of an ace all summer. Pumping premium gas from April through September, Santana was 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA in 32 starts, pitching an inning for the American League in the final Midsummer Classic staged at the old Yankee Stadium.
He had career highs in innings (219) and was second in the AL in strikeouts with 214 while walking only 47 men and holding hitters to a .237 batting average.
Those are ace numbers, even if Santana doesn't pay all that much attention to those things.
"When I had my 500th strikeout and they gave me the ball, I threw it away," he said. "I don't keep things like that."
Santana's experience sometimes obscures the fact he's still a work in progress. He has four years and 104 days of Major League service time, having broken in at 22 in 2005, going 12-8 with a 4.65 ERA.
He jumped to 16-8 with a 4.28 ERA in '06, reaching 204 innings with 141 strikeouts before laboring through a disappointing '07. He never found his rhythm or confidence while going 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA.
Determined to recover his form, he put it all together in '08 and sees no reason why, nearing his physical peak at 27, he can't be even better this season.
"Good arm speed," Butcher said during Santana's session on Thursday.
Santana broke two bats, and Freddy Sandoval, Hainley Statia, Nate Sutton and Gary Patchett struggled to get the ball out of the infield.
Catcher Mike Napoli nodded approvingly when asked about the level of Santana's stuff.
"Very nice," Napoli said.
Another highly productive even-numbered season wouldn't seem odd at all to Santana.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.