Hector Santiago and Nathan Karns were pitching in Triple-A at this time last year hoping to get another shot to prove they belonged in a major league rotation.
No one is arguing that fact now.
They’ll oppose each other Wednesday night in Anaheim when Santiago’s Los Angeles Angels conclude a three-game set against Karns and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Santiago’s struggles followed him to the minors in 2014 after being demoted in mid-May. He finished the year with the Angels (28-25) after returning June 10, going 6-9 with a 3.75 ERA in 24 starts and six relief appearances before signing a one-year, $2.29 million contract in the offseason to avoid arbitration.
That appears to be a bargain.
Santiago (4-3, 2.18 ERA) had his best outing of the season Friday, giving up three hits and striking out seven in 7 1-3 innings of a 2-0 win over Detroit. He’s 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA over his last five and has the lowest ERA of anyone in the Angels’ rotation.
"That’s about as strong an effort as we’ve seen from Hector," manager Mike Scioscia said. "That’s a great outing to pitch that deep against that lineup, especially with all the tough right-handed hitters they have."
The left-hander improved to 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA over his last five home starts, but Karns enters this matchup 1-0 with a 1.02 ERA in three road outings after giving up one hit in six scoreless innings of Tampa Bay’s 2-1 loss to Baltimore on Friday.
Karns (3-2, 3.32), who made three starts with Washington in 2013 and two with the Rays last season after coming over in an offseason trade, has given up two runs or fewer in eight of nine outings since allowing six to the Orioles in his first start April 7.
The right-hander went 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA in five May starts but wasn’t happy when he was pulled after throwing 87 pitches Friday.
"I want to go out there even if I have like 120 pitches," Karns said. "That’s just (being) a starter. We want to go as long as we can, and we kind of take pride in that."
Karns has never faced the Angels, who had a five-game winning streak snapped with Tuesday’s 6-1 defeat. Chris Archer fanned a franchise record-tying 15 in eight innings, allowing only a fourth-inning homer to Albert Pujols.
It marked the 534th career homer for Pujols, who tied Jimmie Foxx for 17th all-time. He has six homers in as many games – including two in Monday’s 7-3 victory – while batting .391 in that stretch.
The Rays (27-26) have won three of four following a six-game skid. Logan Forsythe went 2 for 14 over his previous four before hitting a two-run homer in the first inning Tuesday.
Evan Longoria went hitless, though, and is 2 for 20 over his last six following a 10-game hitting streak. He’s 3 for 3 with a double against Santiago, who hasn’t faced the Rays since allowing four runs in relief April 27, 2013, while with the Chicago White Sox.
This marks the second of four straight that Tampa Bay will be facing a left-handed starter. The Rays are hitting .254 against lefties compared to .240 versus righties.