During every start Hector Santiago makes before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the eyes of scouts from major league teams across the country will be fixated on him.
Those watching Thursday afternoon at Tropicana Field found a familiar sight. Santiago nibbled around the edges of home plate, as he is wont to do, and benefited from umpire Mike Estabrook’s expanded strike zone during a getaway-day matinee, firing seven scoreless innings in the Angels’ 5-1 victory over Tampa Bay.
Santiago gave up only three hits, all singles, and four walks while striking out nine. The 28-year-old left-hander has issued nine walks over his last 15 innings yet has not given up an earned run.
He is not pitching perfectly, but he is pitching effectively of late, and the Angels could capitalize by trading him before the nonwaiver deadline.
Even with their current three-game winning streak, the Angels are 36-50, 17 games back of the American League West lead. The playoffs are not a likely possibility, but trades designed to aid the future are.
The Angels vigorously pursued trading Santiago in the winter. They could do so again this summer. The market for established starting pitchers is thin, and while Santiago’s earned-run average is 4.58, his career ERA is 3.75 and he has more strikeouts than he has given up hits. Since he will be a free agent after next season, it might make sense to strike a deal now.
“I can’t control that,” Santiago said. “I can’t go into the front office and say trade me or don’t trade me. I mean, I could, but it’s not gonna make a difference.”
He is still walking too many batters for teams to become truly enamored, but he made a habit of stranding baserunners in the first half of last season, earning him an All-Star nod, and he is starting to do it again.
“I feel really comfortable from the stretch,” Santiago said. “And I’ve been saying that for the last four or five starts. When I get into the stretch I have a great mind-set, a positive mind-set, like I’m not worried about who’s on base. I just want to throw strikes and pound the zone.”
In relief of Santiago on Thursday, Joe Smith had his first pitch whacked to center field by Brad Miller. The side-armer chose not to watch the ball leave the field of play. He rebounded to retire the next three batters he faced in order.
Huston Street warmed for the ninth but did not pitch after the Angels added a run in the top of the inning. Instead, Fernando Salas finished off a series of positive performances from players the Angels may trade in the next three weeks: Santiago, Smith and third baseman Yunel Escobar.
Escobar had three hits — raising his season average to .327, seventh-best in the major leagues — and executed two of his best defensive plays of the season. He is the Angels’ most obvious trade chip, and his offense is helping outweigh any concerns opposing clubs may carry.
Escobar’s effort on defense has ebbed and he has declined to publicly take responsibility for mental mistakes. But he has continually hit.
“As an opposing player, you see his antics out there, and you’re just like, ‘Come on, guy. Stop,’” Santiago said. “But on your team, you love him.”
Facing ballyhooed left-hander Blake Snell, the Angels did not break through until the sixth inning, when they scored twice on an Albert Pujols single and a C.J. Cron groundout.
Cron knocked in another run on an eighth-inning sacrifice fly, and Mike Trout stole home with Pujols’ help for an additional run. Escobar singled in Andrelton Simmons in the ninth for the final run.
The Angels had not won three consecutive games in more than a month. Afterward, they could say, finally, that they were playing well.
And then wonder what might come next.
“It’s a matter of if we can make the second half ours, get on a run and somehow conquer a 17-game deficit in a matter of three months,” Santiago said. “That would be great, but, I don’t know. Anything’s possible, right?
“You don’t expect seven scoreless from me today, so, anything’s possible.”