ST. PETERSBURG -- Hector Santiago admittedly disliked Yunel Escobar when he played against him. Several other Angels players felt similarly, because if you don't really know the guy, Escobar can come off apathetic, or boisterous, or pompous, and sometimes a bizarre combination of all three.
"He's fun, for sure," Santiago said after the Angels' 5-1 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field on Thursday afternoon. "As an opposing player, you see him on the field and you're just like, 'Come on, guy. Stop.' But on your team, you love him. You love him when he slides into second base, gets a double and puts the 'safe' sign on. Or gets on first and points at the umpire, like, 'Yeah, you're right.' He just has fun, man."
It remains to be seen whether Santiago and Escobar will continue to share a clubhouse beyond this month.
The two have been, predictably, floated in trade rumors leading up to the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, because Santiago fills many needs as a left-handed starting pitcher, and Escobar fills many others as a productive third baseman.
If there is one positive for the Angels of late -- besides the fact that they've won three straight games for the first time since the middle of May -- it's that both potential trade chips are performing well at an opportune time.
Santiago pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out nine batters, giving him 15 consecutive frames since he has allowed an earned run and putting his ERA at 2.98 over his last five starts. Escobar went 3-for-5, extending his hitting streak to a career-high-tying 12 games and putting his batting average at .350 (70-for-200) since May 3.
Escobar, who once again declined to speak to the media, leads Major League third basemen in batting average and is slashing .327/.374/.426, after posting a breakthrough .314/.375/.415 slash line last year.
"He's a good hitter," Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said. "He has a good idea at the plate of what he wants to do. He had a great spring, and he actually is a guy with a high on-base percentage, low strikeout [rate]. He puts the ball in play. He's a good player. He's a .300 hitter. He's having a great year."
Escobar has been hitting since he arrived in Spring Training, but Santiago's success has come in spurts.
The 28-year-old began with a 2.70 ERA in four starts, then posted a 6.46 ERA in his next three, then turned in eight scoreless innings on May 15, which was followed by a 12.18 ERA in five starts that has bled into the good run he's currently on.
Santiago has issued four walks in back-to-back starts, but has somehow stranded each of the 15 baserunners he's put on base during that time.
It's a reminder of his All-Star first half from last season, when Santiago ranked second in the Majors in percentage of runners he left on base. And it's something he credited to feeling "really comfortable from the stretch."
"I think he's got the ability to get a strikeout," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He got it today, had really good stuff. And even though he had to work back into a lot of counts, he had the stuff to do it and made pitches when he needed to."
Santiago and Escobar are both controllable through the 2017 season, with Santiago facing another year of arbitration and Escobar sporting a reasonable $7 million club option.
But it would be tough for the Angels to part with either player.
The Angels are in desperate need of starting pitchers to fill out the rotation next year, with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson headed for free agency, Andrew Heaney undergoing Tommy John surgery and Garrett Richards possibly also facing the same procedure. And dealing Escobar would mean they have to acquire a third baseman from the outside for the third time in four years.
But the Royals, Giants and Mets could all use a third baseman, and they could all surrender some solid prospects to get their hands on Escobar.
He has Santiago's endorsement.
"Offensively," Santiago said, "he's unbelievable."