Santiago trying to re-establish attack mentality

Left-hander struggling to go deep into games

Santiago trying to re-establish attack mentality

NEW YORK -- It was the bottom of the second at PNC Park on Sunday. The bases were loaded with two outs, and Hector Santiago faced a full count with Pirates left fielder Gregory Polanco. Santiago tried to locate his fastball on the very edge of the outside corner, but missed by about a half-inch, allowing a run to score in what amounted to a 33-pitch inning.

The Angels' left-hander ran the count full on Polanco again in the fourth, only this time the bases were empty and Santiago didn't much care about his location. He reared back and fired a 94-mph fastball that Polanco swung through. It was his 90th pitch, the end of another outing that was cut short because Santiago wasn't aggressive often enough.

To Santiago, those two sequences illustrate his perpetual struggle to keep his approach simple and let his stuff play.

When he does, Santiago can dominate.

When he doesn't, Santiago struggles to pitch deep into games.

"Mentally, I think as a player, you're always trying to get better, get better, get better," he said. "And sometimes you don't need to. Sometimes the stuff that you have is enough to be where you need to be. I've noticed that. Any time I have a game where I struggle, it's because I try to be too fine."

Santiago's dominance with the Angels has been confined to spurts. Like July and August of 2014 (2.50 ERA in 54 innings), the first half of 2015 (2.33 ERA in 108 1/3 innings) and the first month of 2016 (2.70 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings).

Since then, the 28-year-old carries a 6.69 ERA over an eight-start stretch, averaging 4.38 walks and 2.31 homers per nine innings while unable to complete six innings on six occasions (though one was a product of an ejection). His fastball velocity has varied greatly, going as high as an average of 94.2 mph (May 31 against the Tigers) and as low as 89.7 mph (May 10 against the Cardinals).

Santiago chalked up the outings with lower velocity to an over-reliance on a slower cutter.

"The stuff's there," said Santiago, 3-3 with a 5.07 ERA. "I've had it all year."

The Angels' message to Santiago heading into starts has been very simple: We just want your stuff in the zone.

Manager Mike Scioscia believes Santiago understands it. But now it's a matter of getting his mechanics in sync so he can get to translating that aggression to success.

"He tried to make some adjustments with his mechanics, didn't feel right, and lost his aggressiveness," Scioscia said. "But this is all the progression of a starting pitcher. He's a young starting pitcher. He's been starting for really two full seasons. He's going to hopefully grow into that understanding, and hopefully he'll make adjustments. He's not that far off."

Santiago can command up to seven pitches, but his best starts this year are the ones in which he shortened his repertoire. When he pitched seven scoreless innings against the White Sox on April 18, he threw his four-seam fastball 71 percent of the time. When he twirled eight scoreless innings against the Mariners on May 15, only 21 percent of his pitches were breaking balls.

He stuck with what felt right in his pregame bullpen session and consistently attacked hitters, never worrying much about the preciseness of his location.

"At some point, it's going to click and it's going to be like that every single game," Santiago said. "It's going to happen. It just needs to hurry up and happen."  

Worth noting

• The Angels are still unsure if setup man Joe Smith will need to go on the disabled list because of his ailing left hamstring. He spent Monday undergoing tests and wasn't expected to be available for the ensuing game.

• Scioscia said Tyler Skaggs' next outing in Arizona -- five innings on Wednesday -- will be his last before rejoining Triple-A Salt Lake for a rehab assignment. C.J. Wilson (biceps tendinitis) will resume throwing this week.

• Shortstop Andrelton Simmons (left thumb surgery) began a rehab assignment for Class A Advanced Inland Empire on Monday and is expected to play three straight games there. He could be activated as early as this weekend.

Daniel Nava (left groin) is beginning baseball activities this week and could begin a rehab assignment over the weekend. Nava is on the DL for the second time this season and has only played 17 games.

Albert Pujols was back in the lineup Monday, as the designated hitter, after rolling his left ankle stretching for the final out in Sunday's 5-4 win over the Pirates. Pujols, who started six of the last eight games at first base, did not require X-rays.

• Angels catcher Geovany Soto has resumed throwing, and Scioscia said he's making "great strides" in his recovery from surgery to his right knee. Soto's initial timeline had him returning mid-to-late June.

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for MLB.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.