Ervin Santana has been having a rough year. After getting a vote of confidence from manager Mike Scioscia by being named the number three starter ahead of C.J. Wilson, Santana has done everything he can to make sure people don’t forget that decision was a bad one. After losing his first six starts and surrendering 11 home runs, things looked bleak for the veteran Halo, but Serving’ Ervin may have hit a new low.
After back-to-back no-decisions against the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees in which Santana was bailed out by offensive rallies, patience was wearing thin for the veteran righty. In those two games, Santana gave up three more long balls, pushing his total for the season up to 15, the most in baseball, on top of walking eight and allowing nine runs in just 10.0 innings of work. After pitching in the streak-ending loss against the Yankees, Santana shrugged off his early struggles, saying that’s just what happens when you’re a power pitcher like him, and he was backed up by Scioscia once again.
After last night’s game, however, he may need to re-evaluate his approach. In his second start against the soft-hitting Seattle Mariners, Santana was shelled for his worst outing of the season. Servin’ Ervin surrendered seven runs on eight hits in just 4.2 innings, walking six and striking out just one. It’s the second time this season that Santana has walked at least six Mariners (which is made worse by the fact he’s only faced them twice). In two starts against Seattle, who are a three touchdown performance against Texas away from being in the bottom of the AL in runs, Santana has allowed 11 runs on 12 hits, with 13 walks, four strikeouts, and a pair of home runs allowed in just 9.2 innings of work. The M’s may want to ask the Angels if they can take Santana with them when they leave to throw BP for them, and the Angels should consider it.
Last night’s game was a model of futility that has come to define Ervin Santana in 2012. He gave up a shot over the center field wall to Kyle Seager in the first inning for his 16th home run surrendered on the year, the highest mark in baseball. In the third inning, he walked three straight batters, which set up a two-run rally for the Mariners, scoring on a John Jaso single and a Mike Carp fielder’s choice. In the fifth, Santana issued a free pass with two outs to Michael Saunders to load the bases before giving up a three-run double to reserve infielder Munenori Kawasaki, the M’s number nine hitter who entered the game batting just .158 and had managed two RBI before last night. Thankfully, Santana was pulled before he could do any more damage.
Early in the season, much of Santana’s struggles, at least in the win-loss department, could be attributed to a lack of offensive support. Over his first six starts, Santana received just three runs of support, all coming in an Opening Weekend loss to Kansas City. The offense has come alive behind him recently, but Santana’s struggles have only gotten worse. The team almost bailed him out for a third straight game, pulling within 8-6 in the eighth with the tying run in scoring position, but couldn’t push him across. Mike Trout had his first career four-hit game, and Kendrys Morales hit a pair of home runs, but it wasn’t enough to climb out of the hole Santana dug for the Angels.
Santana has been able to build a nice career using two pitches primarily; a fastball and a slider. His third pitch, a change-up, rarely gets used, and he’s never seen the need to develop a fourth one. Well, the need has officially arrived. Scioscia continues to defend his guy, saying that Santana’s stuff is as good as any in the the league “when he’s on,” which is a veeeeery important caveat. Santana has been far from “on” this season, and the blame is going to his inability to find that delivery to allow him to get consistent control of his pitches, which would be excusable…if Santana weren’t in his eighth major league season.
This is a guy who has accumulated double digit wins in five of the last seven seasons. He’s been a focal point of this rotation since 2005. He should know how to pitch by now. If he’s lost it, or if his stuff just isn’t fooling people like it used to, maybe some time out of the rotation would benefit Santana. He could learn to use his change-up more than 10% of the time, or figure out his delivery so the ball goes where he wants it to (and doesn’t end up in the outfield seats), or he could try and develop another pitch that will keep hitters off-balance a bit more. Something needs to change, because right now opponents are teeing off on what Santana is serving up.