The doors to the Angels’ Safeco Field clubhouse were shut for a pregame meeting Sunday morning, but you could still hear the roars and applause from the hallway.
Manager Mike Scioscia had just announced that Hector Santiago was added to the American League All-Star team, completing the left-hander’s remarkable transformation from a pitcher who entered spring training in a battle for the fifth rotation spot to one good enough to pitch in baseball’s summer showcase event.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited to tell a player that he’s been selected,” Scioscia said. “Hector is a classic example of a late bloomer, a guy who’s worked hard to figure it out.
“He’s kept going, he won a spot in the rotation coming out of spring, and he’s elevated himself through hard work to pitch at a level with anybody in our league. It makes you feel good that he’s being rewarded.”
Santiago, 27, has been the Angels’ most consistent starter all season, yielding one or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 17 starts.
He is 6-4 with a 2.33 earned-run average, the third-best ERA in the league, and he has struck out 98 and walked 34 in 108 1/3 innings, a significant improvement in control from 2014, when he went 6-9 with a 3.75 ERA with 108 strikeouts and 53 walks in 127 1/3 innings.
Santiago joins Mike Trout and Albert Pujols as the Angels' All-Star representatives for Tuesday's game at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. He replaced Oakland right-hander Sonny Gray, who pitched against the Cleveland Indians on Sunday — throwing a two-hit shutout — and was therefore ineligible to pitch in Tuesday’s game in Cincinnati.
“It shows that all that work and time I put in trying to get all the mechanics down and repeat everything worked out,” Santiago said before Sunday’s game against the Seattle Mariners. “I’m in a good place right now. This is the reward.”
Santiago threw at least 20 bullpen sessions over the winter in an effort to iron out his mechanics and has focused this season on maintaining a straight line from the rubber to the plate and a clean, consistent delivery.
He may have cemented his All-Star selection in Friday night’s 7-3 win over the Mariners, when he allowed one run and eight hits in seven innings, striking out seven and walking none, and threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of 28 batters, a performance both he and Scioscia called his best of the season.
“Through trial and error and working with Butch, they found a delivery that has his arm slot where it needs to be,” Scioscia said, referring to pitching coach Mike Butcher. “The timing is there, his delivery is very repeatable. He’s just evolved as a pitcher. It’s been fun to watch, and it’s been really important to us.”
Santiago has an extensive collection of autographed jerseys in his Arizona home and is looking forward to adding to it at the All-Star game.
“I’ll definitely get a few things,” he said, “but it’s too short a notice to get stuff made.”
Santiago spent several hours Sunday scrambling to make travel arrangements for family members to get to Cincinnati, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“My credit card is about to get burned up right now, for sure,” he said. “But it will be fun . I’ll definitely take it all in. It could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”