MLB

Preview: Twins at Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Introductions will not be necessary when Ervin Santana steps onto the mound for the Minnesota Twins on Saturday night at Angel Stadium.

Santana spent most of his career with the Los Angeles Angels -- formative years, good years.

He pitched for the Angels for eight seasons, from 2005 to 2012, started eight postseason games for them, threw a no-hitter for them (2011 vs. Cleveland) and won 96 games for them, including a 17-win season and two 16-win seasons.

But after the 2012 season, they traded him to Kansas City for pitcher Brandon Sisk, who never reached the majors and is not pitching professionally anymore.

Considering the state of the Angels' starting rotation and the way Santana has pitched this season, they probably would love to have Santana back.

Santana is having one of his best seasons this year at age 34. He's 7-2 with a league-best 1.75 ERA, two complete games and two shutouts. He's a big reason why the Twins are leading the American League Central.

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The seven wins have already matched last year's total when he went 7-11 in 30 starts. But it wasn't that he pitched that poorly -- his ERA was 3.38. This year, the Twins are a better team all around, and as for Santana, his years in the league have given him the experience that makes anybody better.

"Back then I was not pitching, I was throwing," Santana told the L.A. Daily News. "(In the past) I can get ahead with my fastball and then maybe throw a slider away and give myself a chance to get out of the inning.

"I have a better feel for my changeup now. I have confidence, but sometimes you don't always have the same type of energy. For the team, we won our first game of the year. Last year, we lost our first nine. Everybody's happier now. Everything has changed."

Santana has faced the Angels only three times in the past four seasons, going 1-2 with a 4.35 ERA. Angels infielder Cliff Pennington has hit Santana as well as any current Angel, batting .440 (11-for-25) with three doubles.

Yunel Escobar has hit Santana well too (8-for-22), but Albert Pujols hasn't done much (3-for-12 with three strikeouts). Pujols remains on the hunt for career home run No. 600.

Matt Shoemaker will start for the Angels, coming off a poor performance in Miami against the Marlins. He had pitched into the sixth inning in five consecutive starts, but against Miami lasted just 4 2/3 innings, gave up four runs and seven hits and took the loss.

That also happens to be the game during which Mike Trout tore a ligament in his thumb, so Shoemaker's performance was lost in the shuffle. But not for him.

"Focus. All that stuff. Balls were up. I have to locate better. … It seemed like I was just out there throwing," Shoemaker told the Orange County Register. "I need to refocus."

Shoemaker is 1-1 with a 4.61 ERA in three career starts vs. Minnesota. Only catcher Jason Castro in the Twins' lineup has a tangible number of at-bats against Shoemaker, going 4-for-16 against him.