The smile returned to Ervin Santana’s face when he left the mound Monday night.
It wasn’t pretty, and it helped that he was facing the inherently flawed offensive philosophy of the Oakland A’s, but Ervin Santana took a major step forward Monday night.
The sabermetric zealots will tell you ad nauseam that taking walks is the key to a productive offense, but one look at the real-world stats will show you the Angels (1) have 140 fewer walks than the A’s, yet (2) have scored 84 more runs than the A’s. Simplistic theories usually yield simplistic results, and Oakland’s "patient" philosophy played a role in Ervin’s success.
Santana struck out four and walked five in 6 1/3 innings, allowing no runs on two hits. The walks really weren’t that much of a concern, because the A’s missed several opportunities to take advantage of hittable pitches Ervin left in the zone. This was the same problem that cursed Ervin in the last game, but this time it didn’t hurt so much because he could just pitch around dangerous situations and let the A’s batters put themselves in two-strike counts where they couldn’t be so picky with pitches.
Ervin and the Angels will take it, though, and it’s certainly a step forward for his confidence. Santana seemed to pitch more slowly and deliberately than his last start, when he seemed in a rush to lose. As noted on Sunday and as reported by the Orange County Register, Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher detected a flaw in Santana’s mechanics that caused him not to load up on his hip. Ervin took his time tonight to be sure he took his full windup, and it seemed to help. His location was much better, although in the first couple innings he looked as jittery as his last start at Seattle.
Mike Scioscia seemed to confirm my observation about the walks. He told Doug Padilla of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin:
"It wasn’t a clean game for Ervin, but I don’t think he left his game plan," Scioscia said. "I think that although the walks were there to make him pitch out of trouble … he made those guys step up to have to beat him."
As for Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enterprise, who in recent blog entries had called Santana a "spoiled brat" and Santana’s supporters "ignorant," he acknowledged Santana’s work but still hasn’t apologized for his insulting remarks. Oh well, it’s progress — just as Ervin’s night was also progress.
Hurst had written that "nobody loves Santana." As Ervin walked off the mound in the 7th to fan adulation, my wife commented, "That’s 40,000 nobodies giving a standing ovation."
Ervin’s next start projects to be at home Saturday night against Cleveland, a team that’s scored 69 runs more than Oakland while taking 64 less walks. So Santana will face a more difficult challenge.
UPDATE 9/5/07 6:00 PM PDT — John Klima of MLB.com writes about one scout’s opinion of Santana’s performance Monday night.
"I thought he looked pretty good," one AL scout said. "The ball came out of his hand well, his fastball had a lot of life and he had enough secondary stuff to take it deeper into a game. He needs to have better fastball command, but if you hadn’t seen him in a long time, then you’d have a hard time picking up that this guy has been struggling."