With Dan Haren hurt and Jerome Williams on the disabled list, the Angels needed depth and quality from Santana during their Fourth of July game against the Indians. Instead, Santana hit a new low, giving up six runs through the first 13 batters, notching his shortest start in three years and putting the Angels in a deep hole.
"We definitely need Ervin to pick it up," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, after watching his team suffer a 12-3 defeat that ended their road trip at 5-4. "He's a guy that we're counting on in our rotation right now."
In the series finale from Progressive Field -- the site of his no-hitter last July -- Santana was charged with eight earned runs on six hits, three walks and zero strikeouts in 1 1/3 innings, putting his record at 4-9 and his ERA at 5.75.
In Santana's first four starts this season, he pitched poorly (0-4, 7.23 ERA). In his next five, he was strong (2.25 ERA). In four starts after that, he struggled (10.18 ERA). Two starts later, he was on track (two earned runs in 17 innings). And in his last two, he's been hit hard (13 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings).
"It is a little bit frustrating, because as a pitcher, you want to do good every time," Santana said. "But you have to realize, too, that nobody's perfect. I know every time I go to the mound, I want to win. I'm always thinking positive."
On Wednesday, against an Indians lineup that leans very heavily to the left, Santana was behind in the count against eight of the last 11 hitters he faced, threw 25 of his 58 pitches for balls and didn't have much bite on the few sliders he showed.
With two outs in the first, Jason Kipnis and Travis Hafner walked and Michael Brantley hit a three-run homer, representing the 20th Santana has given up this season -- tied for second in the American League.
"It was a changeup," Brantley said. "The count was 1-1. I kind of got a changeup out over the plate that I was able to drive. I kind of kept my hands back and put a good swing on it."
The bottom of the second began with back-to-back singles by Johnny Damon and Lou Marson, then an RBI double by Shin-Soo Choo and, two batters later, an RBI single by Kipnis that put the Indians ahead, 6-0.
When Hafner followed that up with a scorching line-drive single to right field, Scioscia decided he had seen enough. He pulled Santana and went to his bullpen, even though Haren gave him only 4 1/3 innings the night before. Hisanori Takahashi surrendered a three-run homer to Casey Kotchman shortly thereafter.
Afterward, catcher Bobby Wilson was asked if he could pinpoint the biggest difference between the Santana of 2011 (career-low 3.38 ERA in 33 starts) and the Santana of '12.
"No I can't, to be honest with you," he said. "I really can't pinpoint one certain thing and say, 'Well, if he does this ...' I don't know. All I can do is encourage him, and work with him, and help him in any way I can to get out of this funk. That's what I'm going to do. We still have another half. I believe in him. I know everybody on this team believes in him, that he can turn it around. When he does, it's going to be exciting -- just like it was last year."
On Tuesday, Haren exited after throwing only 69 pitches, giving up seven runs (six earned) in a 4 1/3-inning outing before revealing he had been dealing with lower-back stiffness for pretty much the whole year.
The Angels have sported the best rotation ERA in the AL for most of the year, but Santana and Haren -- who are making a combined $23.95 million in 2012 and have club options pending for next season -- haven't been much help, combining for a 4.43 ERA and 36 homers in 34 starts.
With Santana continuing to struggle, Haren's back getting evaluated in Anaheim on Thursday, Williams on the shelf and the young Garrett Richards coming off a rough outing of his own, the Angels' starting staff doesn't look all that deep after All-Stars Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson
"You're always concerned about the rotation," Scioscia said. "It's the last thing you think about when you're going to bed and the first thing you think about waking up. You're thinking about the guys and where they are, and your depth chart through your organization. There's some things some of our guys need to be more consistent with. And Ervin's one of those guys. We've got to get him back on that beam."