Ervin Santana feels good despite loss

It all looked so promising for Ervin Santana of the Angels in the first three innings Wednesday night, when the right-hander’s fastball hit 95 mph and his slider had so much bite it was producing swings and misses on balls in the dirt.

Then in the fourth inning, his fastball lost a little steam, and his breaking ball flattened out. A walk to Joe Mauer and a hanging slider that Justin Morneau crushed for a two-run home run to deep right-center field wiped out Santana’s shutout.

J.J. Hardy lined a slider over the left-field wall to open the fifth inning, Nick Punto tripled and scored on Denard Span’s sacrifice fly, and the Minnesota Twins went on to a 4-2 victory in Angel Stadium.

Minnesota right-hander Carl Pavano gave up one run and six hits in seven innings, striking out six, walking none and pitching out of a based-loaded, one-out jam in the second and a first-and-third, two-out jam in the third to gain the victory.

Though Santana lost, Manager Mike Scioscia was encouraged by the 27-year-old, who was slowed in 2009 by an elbow sprain that sapped him of his normal fastball, which fell from the 96-mph range two years ago to the 91-mph range last season.

“The stuff he showed is going to play very well this year,” Scioscia said. “He made a couple mistakes to Morneau and Hardy, and they hurt him, but he looked really good. The [elbow issue] is long behind us.”

An All-Star in 2008, when he was 16-7 with a 3.49 earned-run average in 32 starts, Santana fell to 8-8 with a 5.03 ERA in 24 starts last season and spent two months on the disabled list.

But Santana appears sound, hitting 97 mph once in the first inning Wednesday, and even when he began to labor in the fourth, his fastball hit 93 mph regularly.

“Early on, he had great life on his fastball and great arm speed on the slider,” Scioscia said. “He got a little too fine, and that cost him some counts and a lot of pitches. But that fastball-breaking ball combination was terrific. His stuff is there.”

Santana said he was “very happy” with his performance and considered it a building block. Asked whether he felt like the old Ervin, Santana said, “No, I feel like the new one.”

Another pitching plus for the Angels: Reliever Scot Shields, who sat out most of 2009 because of left-knee surgery, looked sharp while giving up one hit and striking out two in a scoreless ninth in his first appearance since May 26 against the Chicago White Sox.

“Scot showed real good command for his first outing,” Scioscia said. “He had good movement on his fastball, and he spun the ball really well.”

The Angels offense continued to spin its wheels at the worst times. With the bases loaded and one out in the second, Mike Napoli flied to shallow right field and Brandon Wood struck out. Kendry Morales struck out with runners on first and third to end the third.

Hideki Matsui’s double and Juan Rivera’s single produced a run in the sixth, and Howie Kendrick’s double and Napoli’s run-scoring single made some noise in the ninth, but closer Jon Rauch got Wood, who has one hit in 12 at-bats, to ground into a game-ending fielder’s choice.

“Guys want to get off to a good start, and maybe they’re squeezing the bats a little bit,” Scioscia said. “Some young guys are trying to get comfortable in the box, but it will come.”