The Angels will score. They have scored more runs than all but four teams in the major leagues, and that is with Josh Hamilton on the disabled list and a black hole at third base.
The Angels will go as far as their pitching takes them. On Friday, they shook up their staff a bit, dropping Hector Santiago from the starting rotation and suggesting Joe Smith and Ernesto Frieri might share the closer’s role.
Frieri did the honors Friday, delivering a perfect ninth inning in a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Smith worked the eighth, following seven strong innings from Garrett Richards.
The Angels are delighted that Richards is emerging as an ace. But they are frustrated by Santiago’s inability to control his fastball and his emotions, so much so that they demoted him to the bullpen without an obvious candidate to replace him in the rotation.
The Angels’ glaring weakness is a lack of depth in starting pitching. That they would expose that weakness without an injury forcing their hand speaks to how poorly Santiago has pitched.
“We’re taking care of the move up here, first and foremost,” pitching coach Mike Butcher said.
Santiago is 0-6 with a 5.19 earned-run average. The Angels are 0-7 when he starts and 17-10 when he does not. The Angels will promote a minor league pitcher to fill the rotation spot of Santiago, who now becomes the lone left-hander in the bullpen.
“Obviously, I didn’t want it to happen,” Santiago said. “I’ve been kind of looking for something to happen, the way it was going.”
In his last start, he pitched 21/3 innings, then left the mound before Manager Mike Scioscia arrived to remove him, a breach of baseball protocol for which Santiago subsequently apologized.
Butcher said the demotion was “100% not a disciplinary thing” and said the team would like to see Santiago earn his way back into the rotation, provided he can better control his pitches — he has 18 walks in 35 innings — and his emotions after a play goes awry.
Said Butcher: “The plan right now is for him to be in the bullpen and help us win games out of the ‘pen, and hopefully clear his head a little bit and get back on track.”
Santiago was effective last season as a swingman for the Chicago White Sox, with a 3.51 ERA in 23 starts and 3.93 ERA in 11 relief appearances.
“Maybe this will put me on the right path,” Santiago said. “Maybe this is where it can turn around.”
The Angels hoped to turn Frieri around by removing him as closer two weeks ago. At the time, Scioscia said he intended to return Frieri to the role as his performance improved.
In the interim, Smith converted all three save opportunities. On Friday, the Angels wanted Smith to face the dangerous top of the Toronto lineup — Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista.
Those three batted in the eighth, so Smith pitched the eighth. Had those three batted in the ninth, interim manager Dino Ebel said, Smith would have pitched the ninth.
“There will be situations where Joe will be closing,” Butcher said. “There will be situations where Ernie will be closing.”
Said Smith: “I don’t know if we’re flip-flopping the ninth. I haven’t heard that rumor.”
If that indeed is how the ninth inning plays out, Smith and Frieri said that would be fine with them, that they would pitch whenever the Angels needed them to do so.
“If you ask me what my favorite position is, I’m going to say closer,” Frieri said. “But this is not just about me. This is about winning.”