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Angels like Santana's winter work

January 16, 2008|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

The Angels haven't thrown a no-hitter in 18 years, but perhaps their most enigmatic pitcher threw the first six innings of a no-hitter in winter ball Monday.

Ervin Santana, playing for Licey in the Dominican Republic, combined with fellow major leaguers Damaso Marte and Carlos Marmol in a 2-0 victory. Santana worked the first six innings of the round-robin playoff game, striking out nine and walking two.

The Angels discussed including Santana in several trades over the last two years, including talks for Miguel Cabrera and Miguel Tejada, and they demoted him to the minor leagues briefly last summer amid concerns his poor performance had eroded his confidence. Yet he'll report to spring training next month for another chance, this time to compete with Joe Saunders for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Santana, 25, went 7-14 with a 5.76 earned-run average last season, but the Angels hope he can build on his last few months. He went 2-2 with a 2.96 ERA in September, and he is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA in the Dominican playoffs.

"That's good for his confidence," Angels General Manager Tony Reagins said Tuesday. "Being able to perform at a high level consistently is important for him. The more success he has, the more confident he is."

If Saunders wins the fifth spot -- behind John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver and Jon Garland -- Santana could work in relief. If Santana wins the spot, Reagins said Saunders probably would start in the minor leagues.

Reagins also said he was not overly concerned about the offensive production of infielder Erick Aybar, hitting .207 for Licey. Aybar is expected to start at shortstop for the Angels, replacing the traded Gold Glove winner Orlando Cabrera, but Reagins said Maicer Izturis would also receive consideration in spring training.

"It's an open competition for the starting position," Reagins said.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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