The tangled web of an injury-plagued and struggling Angels rotation grew even more convoluted Tuesday night, but for a good reason. Veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc has thrust himself into the playoff picture.
LeBlanc, filling in for the injured Matt Shoemaker, allowed five hits over 5 1/3 scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory over Oakland that pushed the Athletics into a tie with the Kansas City Royals for the American League wild-card lead.
Combined with his 5 1/3-inning scoreless effort last Thursday against Seattle, LeBlanc, who was designated for assignment three times this season — twice by the Angels — has thrown 10 2/3 scoreless innings in two starts, allowing eight hits, striking out four and walking one.
With Shoemaker questionable for the division series because of a rib-cage strain and Hector Santiago getting shelled in his last two starts, LeBlanc has positioned himself to be considered for the playoff rotation. At the very least, he should earn a long-relief spot.
"Any time players perform well and put their best foot forward, it makes you a stronger club," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We haven't made any decisions about what our playoff rotation and roster will be, but those are two really strong starts by Wade. He looked good, and that's all a player can do."
LeBlanc, who spent most of the season at triple-A, is having too good of a time to think about his chances of pitching in the playoffs.
"It's been awesome," LeBlanc, 30, said. "It's been a big-time blessing to end up back here with the opportunity to throw some meaningful pitches and try to give these guys a chance to win. If you do your job, I feel like everything takes care of itself."
Santiago will try to solidify a playoff rotation spot today against the A's. The left-hander looked like a lock when he went 5-0 with a 2.29 earned-run average in 12 games from July 10 to Sept. 9, but two starts in which he was rocked for nine earned runs and 12 hits in three innings of losses to Houston and Texas put him on shaky ground.
"Hopefully it will be a nice clean game, no walks, a lot of strikes, a lot of outs, and I give us a chance to win," Santiago said. "I definitely want to get back on the right path to where I was before the last two outings."
If not, Santiago may head into downtown Oakland and jump into Lake Merritt. After lasting one inning and giving up six earned runs against Texas last Friday, Santiago shaved his head and sat in a hot tub and ice bath in full uniform.
"As soon as I started shaving, my head felt cool, I let some steam out," Santiago said.
"I did a little hot-tub time machine, trying to beam myself to the future and forget about the day. Then I jumped in a cold tub for a little contrast."
This is nothing new for Santiago, who drove to his Arizona home in full uniform after a shoddy spring-training start and jumped in his pool, and who showered with his uniform on after a shaky Sept. 4 start in Minnesota.
"It's part of my cleansing process," Santiago said. "I'm not saying it's going to work or make me a better pitcher, but sometimes I feel like I want to wash all this bad stuff away."
Santiago can help his cause by attacking the strike zone and pitching to his strengths on Wednesday.