With four starting pitchers on the disabled list, the Angels didn't have the option of sending Hector Santiago to triple A to right himself as they did in May 2014, when the left-hander struggled in his first season in Anaheim.
So, despite a five-game stretch in which he was 0-2 with a 12.18 earned-run average, Santiago got another chance Wednesday night to prove he belongs.
He made the most of it, allowing one run and two hits in six superb innings to help the Angels defeat the lowly Minnesota Twins, 10-2. Santiago, who failed to complete three innings in three of his last five starts, earned his first victory since May 15.
C.J. Cron had three hits and drove in three runs, Jett Bandy knocked in three runs, and Jefry Marte had two RBIs, as the Angels produced their first two-game winning streak this month.
Though a demotion did not appear imminent, it was a pivotal start for Santiago, who needs to pitch more consistently for the Angels to have any chance of getting back into playoff contention.
"I don't think anyone in the rotation needs to go out there and say it's do or die," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "I don't know if you're gonna pitch your best game under those situations. But hopefully we'll see some more outings like Hector had tonight. That will make us a better team."
Santiago's fastball touched 95 mph in recent starts, but his approach Wednesday seemed to be to try a little easier. He took a little off his fastball in key situations, leading to a delivery that seemed smoother, less labored, and produced better command.
With a runner on second, one out in the fourth and the game still scoreless, Santiago pinpointed a 91-mph fastball on the inside corner at the knees of Robbie Grossman, who took a third strike.
"I didn't want to miss up and over the plate to Grossman, so I tried to settle down, get enough on it to make sure I get it in there," Santiago said. "It was a better-placed pitch than if I let it fly and tried to beat him with a fastball instead of location."
Santiago, who struck out five and walked two, whiffed Trevor Plouffe twice with 93-mph fastballs, and located a 92-mph at the knees of Joe Mauer for a called third strike in the sixth. After the Angels blew the game open with a five-run fifth, Santiago retired the side in order in the sixth.
"The last five starts, I was inconsistent — I'd walk guys, put myself in bad counts, I had to keep battling back, and guys were comfortable up there," Santiago said. "Tonight, I put the pressure on them, throwing strike one, strike two. They were chasing a bunch of stuff off the plate and I got a lot of soft contact."
The Angels made plenty of hard contact, like Marte's line-drive RBI single in a two-run fourth, Yunel Escobar's double off the right-field wall to lead off the fifth and Cron's rocket of a two-run double to left-center to cap a three-run sixth.
But they also got some breaks. Twins shortstop Eduardo Nunez booted Mike Trout's hard grounder to open the door for two unearned runs in the fourth. Minnesota reliever Taylor Rogers walked Marte with the bases loaded in the fifth.
And with the bases loaded, Twins right fielder Max Kepler overran Bandy's routine fly ball, the ball dropping behind him for a two-run single and a 6-1 lead.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, in his first game back after a five-week absence because of left-thumb surgery, capped the fifth-inning outburst by squirting an RBI single to right field for a 7-1 lead.
Simmons also helped thwart a rally in the fifth with his glove and arm. Kurt Suzuki's RBI single pulled Minnesota to within 2-1, and the Twins had two on.
Byron Buxton ripped a one-hopper to the right of Simmons, who made a lunging, backhand grab and, from one knee and his body facing third base, made a twisting throw to second for a force out. Simmons then charged Nunez's slow roller and made a strong throw to first for the final out.