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Santana tries to take the next step

Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ervin Santana pitched well in the Dominican winter league and was 3-0 with a 4.26 earned-run average in six spring starts, but today, Manager Mike Scioscia said, “is his first test.”

Not only to see if the right-hander can maintain the delivery he refined this winter but if he can distance himself from the road struggles that led to his demotion to triple-A Salt Lake last July.

Santana, who will start today’s series finale against the Twins, was 6-4 with a 3.27 ERA in Angel Stadium last year but 1-10 with an 8.38 ERA on the road.

His first two road starts of 2007 set the tone -- Santana was tagged for 11 earned runs and 14 hits in 8 1/3 innings of losses against Cleveland in Milwaukee and at Boston.

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Would a good start today go a long way toward erasing last season’s dismal road performance?

“I think he’s already gone a long way toward erasing last year,” Scioscia said. “He had a good winter, a good spring, and right now, he has a good mind-set.”

That mind-set seems directly tied to Santana’s hip turn, the part of his delivery that got most out of whack last season, causing his breaking ball to flatten out and his command to waver.

“He’s very comfortable with his mechanics right now,” Scioscia said. “As he keeps a pitch-to-pitch focus, he has a tendency to stay in his mechanics more. Last year, he got out of his mechanics, and he didn’t have the stuff he has now. It was tougher to compete.”

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Gary Matthews Jr., who sprained his right ankle a week before the season opener, healed quickly enough to score from first on Vladimir Guerrero’s double Tuesday and to start in left field and steal second base in the eighth inning Wednesday. Matthews started the first two games at designated hitter.

“I said I wouldn’t go out there and hurt myself or put the team in a bad spot,” said Matthews, who could barely walk the day after suffering his injury. “But I knew I’d be OK, because I was running around pretty well during batting practice. . . . I’m good to go.”

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Preston Gomez remains in the intensive care unit of a Palm Springs hospital, but the Angels’ 84-year-old assistant to the general manager continues to make strides in his recovery from a March 26 accident in which he was hit by a pick-up truck.

A team spokesman said Gomez’s vital signs are good, and he is eating well, but his speech is limited. Gomez, who suffered a major head trauma, has been able to watch Angels games on television.

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Torii Hunter’s left elbow, hit by a Juan Rincon fastball Tuesday, wasn’t even swollen Wednesday. Hunter started, and ended an 0-for-10 skid with a sixth-inning single. “I’m the ironman,” Hunter said. “I’m old-school. I play no matter what, unless I can’t move.” . . . Chris Bootcheck, on the disabled list because of a rib-cage strain, threw 23 pitches in a minor league game Wednesday in Arizona and is scheduled to throw two innings Saturday.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com


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