"Going 0-2 in the first part of the game is a big deal for me. The first hitter for me is always the hardest. I'm trying to figure out the mound, where the arm slot is going the be and the umpire's zone. After those first three strikes, I was like, 'Here we go.'"
Santiago was in a zone almost all night, shutting out the White Sox over seven innings and striking out seven on 94 pitches as the Angels cruised to victory to open the season's second half.
After a one-out double to Adam Eaton in the first inning, Santiago wouldn't have to deal with runners in scoring position again until he gave up back-to-back singles in the seventh inning. Everything was working: His fastball was humming at around 93 miles per hour, his changeup was spotted well and almost every offspeed pitch found its target.
Santiago's performance made catcher Geovany Soto's job easy, Soto said, as he recalled some insight from his former teammate with the Cubs, Henry Blanco.
"When a pitcher has all the tools and he has his A game, it's easy," Soto said. "It takes a great catcher to guide a pitcher when he doesn't have his best stuff. It's easy when a pitcher has his best stuff, and [Hector] was commanding the ball really well."
Friday night was just the latest in a run of strong starts for Santiago, who has had issues with consistency ever since being named an All-Star midway through last season. He hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 22 innings, becoming the third starter in Angels history to compile three starts with zero earned runs along with Joe Saunders and Rudy May.
"It's a combination of really good stuff with command," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Tonight, it looked like he had the command. Not only was he getting the ball in the zone, but he was getting it into good spots. He pitched in well, changed speeds, got the ball to the outside corner when he had to."
Santiago is peaking at the right time. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is just a couple weeks away, and the left-hander -- who is controllable through 2018 and has a solid overall track record -- could easily find himself near the top of a very thin trade market for starting pitchers.
"Hopefully you can be here with the guys you've been grinding with since Spring Training for the whole season, but you can't control when you get traded," Santiago said. "When I got traded in 2013 [to the Angels], I was at a Cowboys game. I wasn't in the front office trying to control if I got traded or not."
Fabian Ardaya is a reporter for MLB.com based in Anaheim.