BOSTON -- The vulnerability of the Angels' starting staff became evident Aug. 10, when it was announced that 23-year-old left-hander Tyler Skaggs would undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. Suddenly there was no safety net, with little help available in the upper levels of the Angels' farm system, and guys like Hector Santiago and Matt Shoemaker were going to have to step up in the back end of the rotation.
So far, they have.
Shoemaker gave up two runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Rangers on Saturday, giving him his 11th win of the season and putting his ERA at 3.76 in 14 starts. Santiago pitched six innings of one-run ball in a no-decision Sunday and now has a 2.59 ERA in 59 innings since being called back up from Triple-A on June 10.
"Shoemaker and Santiago has given us a chance to win almost every time out," Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. "If they do that, we're in a good spot."
Shoemaker, a 27-year-old right-hander, and Santiago, a 26-year-old left-hander, couldn't be wired any more differently. Santiago is high-energy, sometimes to a fault, and is prone to being erratic, particularly while starting the year 0-6 with a 5.19 ERA in his first seven starts.
The key, as usual batterymate Hank Conger put it, was "toning everything down" and not putting too much pressure on himself.
"I'm kind of going game to game now," Santiago said. "Especially with me pitching one day and going to the bullpen, and going back and forth, like, 'This is my last start.' Whatever it is, five, six, seven innings, I just try to take that game as the last game of the year. I just worry about today, and that's all that matters. I can't pitch five days from now.
"I think in the beginning of the year it was just something where I was like, 'They want 35 starts from me, they want 200 innings.' I was trying to conserve pitches to go seven innings. ... I put way too much pressure on myself."
For Shoemaker, it was the opposite -- the Angels weren't counting on much of anything.
Shoemaker was undrafted out of Eastern Michigan University and spent almost all of the last two years mired in Triple-A. But he doesn't put added pressure on himself and simply attacks hitters with an effective four-pitch mix. This year, Shoemaker has beaten the likes of Cliff Lee, James Shields, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander.
As Albert Pujols said, "There's nobody in this locker room that deserves that more than him."
"I definitely thought it was a possibility," Shoemaker said of attaining this kind of success in 2014. "Did I think it was going to happen? Not necessarily. But my competitiveness tells me, 'Hey, it's possible. Anything is possible.'"
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.