Hector Santiago's Angels teammates afforded him the opportunity to attack the Chicago White Sox with an uncomplicated approach Monday night.
Staked to a five-run lead before he took the mound and bolstered by velocity he has rarely enjoyed as a starting pitcher, Santiago did not consider who he was facing or what he was throwing.
"I'm just gonna throw heaters," he said. "Prove to me you can hit it, and I'll start pitching."
The White Sox never could hit them, and Santiago never needed to do anything but throw. He fired 81 fastballs over seven innings in the best performance of his professional career, as the Angels ambled to a 7-0 victory before a mostly empty U.S. Cellular Field.
Beginning in the spring, Santiago repeatedly demonstrated increased velocity with his fastball. On Monday night, he averaged 93.5 mph with it, according to BrooksBaseball.net, more than 2 mph better than in 2015 and his highest single number since 2013, when he was still with the White Sox.
"He had easy gas tonight," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
The 28-year-old left-hander believes the increase to be a result of three inputs he adjusted this off-season. He began to power lift to his maximum regularly. He set his mind to pitch like a reliever at all times, never holding back to ensure he could last. And he started a poststart regimen in which he works out immediately after he exits the mound, building up stamina so he can hold the velocity.
Twice, Santiago reared back for the fastest pitches he has thrown in nearly a year: 96.5 mph, on the corner, to Brett Lawrie, the White Sox second baseman. Both times, he struck Lawrie out, first swinging and then looking.
Santiago struck out 10 hitters in all, tying a career high. He permitted one single, one double, and three walks. The sixth inning was the only time he had to work out of any trouble, and, at that point, he and catcher Geovany Soto, also formerly of the White Sox, took precautions.
With Adam Eaton on second base — he had the double — and the powerful Jose Abreu at the plate in a 1-and-2 count, Santiago called Soto to the mound. They talked with their gloves to their mouth. When Soto returned to his crouch, he switched signing systems, moving his hands across his body instead of selecting fingers below his belt.
It appeared they thought the White Sox were stealing signs. Santiago said they were merely discussing what to use as a putaway pitch. Soto wanted a slider; he wanted another fastball. He threw a 95-mph fastball down the middle and Abreu missed it.
The Angels had six runs by that point. They scored their first five quickly, running off talented left-hander Carlos Rodon before the first inning was finished. It was an offensive display so remarkably opposite from their output over the weekend in Minneapolis it became ironic.
To lead off the game, Yunel Escobar tapped a clean single to right field. Following, Mike Trout worked the count to 3 and 2 and then declined to swing at a slider in the dirt from Rodon. Albert Pujols did the same with a fastball, loading the bases for Kole Calhoun, who singled through to right field, scoring Escobar and, after an error, Trout.
Andrelton Simmons snapped a sharp single to right field. That scored Pujols. Soto rapped a sharp single to left fielder Melky Cabrera. C.J. Cron and Johnny Giavotella, two men who entered the game with averages about .100, followed with singles to right to bring in Simmons.
Up came Escobar, and he grounded into a double play to end the inning — but only once Rodon was removed in favor of reliever Jake Petricka.
So emerged Santiago, buoyed by the 25-minute top half of the first.
"It gave Hector a chance to open up everything he had. I think he went about it in the right way," Scioscia said. "One mistake, a couple mistakes, won't beat you in a game like that. That was probably the best game I've ever seen Hector pitch."
The fastballs to Lawrie were the hardest Santiago had thrown since April 8, 2014. He remembered the one exactly, because it was hit for a three-run home run by Corey Hart of the Seattle Mariners. These were different, he said. These were controlled.