ANAHEIM, Ca. – Ervin Santana did not walk off the mound Saturday afternoon as much as he oozed from it, like he'd gone molten against despair and confusion (and the Texas Rangers). In a start the Los Angeles Angels had to have, against an opponent they needed to beat, and nearing the hard decisions of the trading deadline, Santana exited in rivulets.
Leaving behind manager Mike Scioscia and catcher John Hester after only five outs, leaving behind any hope of significantly altering the AL West in one weekend, Santana gazed skyward.
The Angels needed help. And for the second time in three starts, Santana didn't pitch out of the second inning. For the sixth time in nine starts, he'd allowed at least five runs. His ERA in that time, which includes a one-hitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks, is 7.25.
The anomaly is not the blow-up start. The blow-up start is the norm. The freak outing is the competitive one.
The club asked him to be aggressive, and Santana threw 30 strikes in his 47 pitches, and did not walk a batter. It asked him to attack with his fastball, and he pitched easily at 94 mph. But his slider was flat and edible, his location generally was imprecise, and now the season is 95 games old and the Angels have serious concerns about 60 percent of their rotation, Santana most of all.
After Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, Angels starters are 20-25. Their ERA is 4.81. That includes Dan Haren, who hasn't pitched in 18 days because of a back ailment but is scheduled to start Sunday against the Rangers in the same sort of test Santana just failed. Jerome Williams has been cast to the bullpen because he's been awful for a month-and-a-half, leaving rookie Garrett Richards, who has what Scioscia called "an electric arm," but has 10 big-league starts to his name.
At this rate, the Angels are going to run out of places to stash ineffective starting pitchers.
"That has to change," Scioscia said of the issues in his rotation, and before Santana went and hit every bat in the Rangers' lineup. "There's no way two-fifths of the rotation is going to get us where we want to be.
"Haren and Santana are definitely keys to what we have to do the last 70 games. These guys are going to take the ball a dozen more times."
Hello, trade market.
"I'm not talking about any of that stuff," Scioscia said. "Not my department."
With the Rangers running off, the Oakland A's breathing down their necks and the middle-to-back end of their rotation wheezing, do owner Arte Moreno and general manager Jerry Dipoto have a choice but to add a starting pitcher?
The Angels have been linked to everyone, from Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke to James Shields and Ryan Dempster and Francisco Liriano. (On a hot afternoon, scouts from Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit and Kansas City eyed the Angels on Saturday.) The Angels' brass hoped to see Santana bounce back against the Rangers, however, just as they hope Haren's command issues were related to his back and therefore only temporary. They'll know more about that Sunday.
The strategy, again, was to wait and see. That time, however, is nearly done.
Dipoto has shown an aggressive side. When the bullpen sagged, he acquired Ernesto Frieri in the early days of May. Over the winter, he attacked the Albert Pujols and Wilson markets. And now that Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo are up and running, he's not likely to watch the whole thing come apart because the starters beyond Weaver and Wilson can't be trusted.
The downside, of course, is the selling off of parts of the future, and teams that trade veteran pitchers typically seek young pitchers in return. In the past three years, the Angels have traded Alex Torres to the Tampa Bay Rays for Scott Kazmir, Will Smith to the Kansas City Royals for Alberto Callaspo, and Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Haren, which amounts to a substantial arms exodus.
[Also from Tim Brown: Jays, Astros complete huge 10-player trade]
The hotter names in the system now are Richards, who has been pulled out of the system for the good of the big-league rotation, and middle infielder Jean Segura. Give up Richards and by mid-August they could be in pursuit of yet another starter.
So, yeah, it's complicated, and not entirely pleasant for the Angels. It appears necessary, however.
Scioscia would not commit to having Santana make his next start, but also didn't seem warm to the notion of Santana working through his troubles in the bullpen, which, by the way, is getting crowded.
"We're going to look at some things," Scioscia said.
This is not entirely a Santana thing, of course. It was just his turn, at the end of which he was jabbed from the field by the boos of the impatient.
"It happens," Santana said later. "I just have to keep my mind positive and keep pitching."
Indeed, he said, he'd thrown a good slider to Josh Hamilton.
"That means it's there," he said, and that's about all they have to go on.
If there are no answers within Santana, then there are answers out there. The Angels are running out of time and, the fact is, now they're leaking from the mound.
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