Santana blanks A's, continues strong stretch

Santana blanks A's, continues strong stretch

Santana blanks A's, continues strong stretch
ANAHEIM -- Ervin Santana smiles a lot and hardly ever lets on about any frustrations he may be dealing with. But the Angels right-hander had plenty of reason to be annoyed earlier this season -- a season that began with him allowing 10 home runs and posting a 7.23 ERA in his first four starts, saw his offense get shut out five straight times he took the mound and left him with an 0-6 record through his first six outings.

"He's got a pretty even heartbeat; he doesn't get too high or too low," manager Mike Scioscia said. "But inside, there's definitely a competitive mechanism he has. He wants to contribute."

At last, Santana is.

On Tuesday, the Dominican right-hander hurled his fourth consecutive quality start, tossing 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Athletics and -- thanks to a combined six hits and three RBIs by Albert Pujols and Mike Trout -- getting a second straight win in a 4-0 victory by the Halos at Angel Stadium.

Afterwards, the Angels -- 27th in the Majors in runs per game entering Tuesday -- announced they had dismissed hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, replacing him with former Triple-A hitting coach Jim Eppard.

Santana came in with baseball's lowest run support (1.57 per game), but has now received 10 runs over his last two starts. After an outing that saw him scatter four hits, walk three and strike out nine, his ERA is a slim 2.10 over his last four outings.

The biggest difference between the Santana of earlier this year and the one who has been taking the mound recently?

"His slider," catcher Bobby Wilson said. "His slider's getting back to where it was. He's got such better pace now, too. It just feels like he's getting the ball, he's getting on the mound, he's not walking around the mound thinking about what's going on, what to do. He's getting on the mound, trusting his stuff and making good pitches."

After a one-out double by Cliff Pennington in the first inning, Santana retired 16 consecutive batters. He got into a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, but got out of it by striking out Seth Smith. Then, with runners on the corners and two outs in the eighth, he was pulled after 113 pitches -- making way for Scott Downs to come out of the bullpen and retire pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes.

"I felt great today," Santana, 2-6 with a 4.36 ERA on the year, said. "Everything was very good. I had great command today."

Santana had two advantages Tuesday: some rare early run support, which gave him the freedom to be more aggressive, and the sun setting behind him thanks to a 4:05 p.m. PT start, which usually makes it tough for hitters to pick up the ball.

"He pitched well today, used his breaking ball quite a bit, especially when the shadows came into play, which certainly makes sense because it's tough to see the spin," said A's manager Bob Melvin, whose club is now 19-18.

"He's probably the perfect guy, not that they planned it, to be out there pitching in that, because he has several different pitches, throws hard and has several that are late-breaking," Smith added. "You can't see them all that well."

Bartolo Colon dominated the Angels (16-21) when he last faced them on April 18, throwing 38 consecutive strikes at one point en route to eight scoreless innings.

But the Angels, one day removed from getting shut out for the eighth time this season, got to him in the finale of a two-game set, cranking out 12 hits, going 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position and watching their first three hitters -- Trout, Alberto Callaspo and Pujols, respectively -- combine to go 8-for-12.

None of the balls he put in play left the infield, but Pujols finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs, raising his batting average from .197 to .212 while notching just his second three-hit game of the season.

"Obviously, he's still not as comfortable as we anticipate him getting in the box," Scioscia said, "but he contributed a lot today and that's big."

Trout contributed even more, going 3-for-4 with a homer and three runs scored to give him six multihit games in the last 11 and put his batting average at .316. Trout has provided a much-needed spark at the top of the lineup since his April 28 callup, and has seemingly made major strides since a 2011 season that saw him bat .220 in 40 big league games.

As the 20-year-old would confirm later, "My confidence is going up a little bit." Which can only mean trouble for the rest of the league.

"I definitely feel more comfortable, playing every day and getting my chance to go out there and have some fun," Trout said. "That's the big thing, is going out there and having fun. Not trying to do too much; just get on base."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his columns and 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.