Ervin Santana’s mandate Friday night was straightforward in the eyes of Angels Manager Mike Scioscia.
“We want him to go as hard as he can for as long as he can,” Scioscia said ahead of Santana’s first start -- against the Baltimore Orioles -- since the right-handed pitcher came off the disabled list.
Unfortunately for Santana and the Angels, it wasn’t as long as they had hoped.
Led by Aubrey Huff’s three-run home run in the third inning, Baltimore pummeled Santana for six runs in five innings on its way to a 6-4 win at Angel Stadium.
Baltimore starter David Hernandez (2-2) largely handcuffed the Angels’ hitters in 6 2/3 innings to earn the win.
Combined with the Texas Rangers’ win Friday, the Angels dropped back into a tie with Texas for first place in the American League West.
Santana (1-4) rejoined the Angels last Monday after his final rehabilitation start in the minor leagues, and said he felt no ill effects from the sprained ligament in his elbow that put him on the disabled list.
But many of the 39,104 at Angel Stadium were still finding their seats when the Orioles’ batters started pounding Santana’s pitches.
With the bases loaded in the first inning -- a situation that stemmed in part from Santana hitting Adam Jones -- Baltimore designated hitter Luke Scott doubled to drive in two runs.
And in the third inning, Jones led off with a single, Nick Markakis doubled and Huff slammed his home run into the right-field stands, widening Baltimore’s lead to 5-0.
Yet Santana’s breaking balls were effective at times -- he struck out five -- and Scioscia went with Santana as long as he could, with the Angels’ bullpen not coming to life until the fifth.
Scioscia said after the game that he was impressed with Santana’s performance despite the score.
“Physically he’s real close to where he used to be,” Scioscia said. “There’s a little difference between being physically well and going out there, finding a rhythm and making pitches and there’s a little bit of a gap right now. If he matches the command with it, he’s going to get the results.”
Santana, 26, gave up six runs -- four earned -- and eight hits in his five innings of work, along with five walks and the hit batter.
In the meantime, the Angels finally had gotten on the scoreboard in the fourth inning when Juan Rivera hit a two-out double off Hernandez and, after Kendry Morales walked, Maicer Izturis singled to drive home Rivera.
The Angels scored two more in the sixth inning when Morales slugged his 14th home run of the year after Vladimir Guerrero had singled.
Baltimore reliever Jim Johnson also played a key role in protecting the Orioles’ lead, despite being wild.
After Bobby Abreu walked to open the eighth inning, Torii Hunter hit a high grounder that Johnson flagged and then, while falling down, threw to second to force out Abreu. Otherwise, the Angels would have had runners at first and second with no one out.
Johnson then threw consecutive wild pitches to Vladimir Guerrero that enabled Hunter to reach third, and Hunter then scored when Guerrero grounded out. Even so, the Angels were still two runs short.
Santana’s outing -- which lifted his earned-run average to 7.43 -- undoubtedly will fuel speculation that the Angels might step up their effort to trade for a starting pitcher.
But the Angels hope Santana -- who missed the first six weeks of the season because his injury -- starts to regain the form that earned him a spot on the 2008 All-Star team.
In the meantime, “I feel comfortable throwing every pitch no matter what situation or what count,” Santana said after the game. “The ball is coming out good. Location was OK; a few mistakes.”
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Ervin Santana’s last
*--* Opp. IP H ER BB K TB 4.2 8 6 2 3 BAL 5 8 4 3 5 *--*