Escape-artist Santiago shines on wild side

Angels starter holds Rangers scoreless despite 6 walks

Escape-artist Santiago shines on wild side

ANAHEIM -- How's this for a pitching line: Six walks in six innings, but zero runs.

It had to be Hector Santiago, right?

The erratic left-hander has crafted a career, not to mention a breakout 2015 season, on an innate, inexplicable ability to work out of jams. And on Sunday afternoon, in a 7-0 win over the division-rival Rangers, Santiago outdid himself.

"It seemed like every single inning there was a guy on," Santiago said. "I needed this one, for sure, to show I could still get guys out even if I put them on base."

Santiago, who had been charged with 12 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings over his previous three starts, became the first Angels pitcher with six scoreless innings despite six walks since Omar Olivares in 1999. The Angels' three starters this weekend -- Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver and Santiago -- combined to give up three runs in 18 innings, despite issuing 14 free passes.

Santiago's strand rate is now 81.8 percent, third-highest in the Major Leagues behind only the Dodgers' Zack Greinke and the Orioles' Wei-Yin Chen. Stranding baserunners is perceived to be more fluke than skill, a red flag that typically signals impending trouble.

Santiago disagrees.

"For some reason, I pitch better with guys on base," he said. "I bear down better."

Santiago's winning start

Santiago fell behind on 15 of the 23 batters he faced, got himself into 10 different three-ball counts and put at least one runner on in five of six frames. The Rangers had two on with one out in the first and second inning, but the 27-year-old got two double-play balls, the last of which was sparked by catching a hard comebacker.

"I never get double plays," Santiago said, a big smile on his face after improving to 8-9 with a 3.24 ERA.

The six walks tied Santiago's career high -- also done April 26, 2015, and also against Texas -- but they didn't affect him.

"That's always been me, effectively wild or really wild and effective somehow," said Santiago, who has averaged four walks per nine innings throughout his career. "This year has been my best command-wise and throwing pitches where I want to throw them. Six walks was probably a record for me, but I tried not to worry about it; treat it like it was a base hit."

Worth noting

Albert Pujols will undergo an MRI on his right foot on Monday morning. There's a good chance the Angels' first baseman will be limited to starting only at designated hitter for the rest of the season because of that foot injury, which occurred while hitting into a double-play ball on Aug. 28. Pujols doesn't expect the MRI results to change anything, though, saying: "I'm still going to keep playing."

Mike Trout entered Sunday's game with an overall defense rating of 0.7, according to FanGraphs, which ranked 13th out of 22 qualified center fielders. But Angels manager Mike Scioscia scoffs at the metrics, saying: "From a scouting perspective, there's no question this guy is one of the best center fielders, not only in our game but who's been out there. The ground he covers is unbelievable."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.