High hopes for bounce-back season from Santana

'Everything is perfect' in right-hander's first few weeks in Royals spring camp

High hopes for bounce-back season from Santana

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Hard worker. No nonsense. Quiet.

That's part of the picture of Kansas City's new pitcher, Ervin Santana. There's also the part with the engaging conversation and the easy smile. The Royals hope this will be a winning smile as well.

Santana was the first bold move made by general manager Dayton Moore in re-making the pitching rotation. Then Jeremy Guthrie was re-signed, followed by the trade for James Shields and Wade Davis.

There it was -- four starting pitchers that the Royals did not have at the beginning of the 2012 season.

"That's a good change," Santana said. "A good one, and it's a good group of guys and I think we can get the job done. If we stay healthy, we can do a lot of good stuff."

Santana made his first foray in a KC uniform on Friday and pitched two scoreless innings against Cincinnati. He retired the first five batters before giving up a walk and Chris Heisey's double. He struck out two in the eventual 3-2 Royals win.

"Every time you go in the first inning one-two-three and then in the second inning you work a little bit, it's good," he said. "Because you're working in and you miss on some pitches and you see what the results are."

Santana came to the Royals unexpectedly, just as the Angels were about to opt out on his $13 million contract. Moore jumped in with a trade offer and got the pitcher (and the contract, minus $1 million) in exchange for Minor League reliever Brandon Sisk. That made Santana the highest-paid Royal this year, by far. He could become a free agent next winter.

The 30-year-old right-hander fit comfortably into the Royals' training clubhouse, assigned to Joakim Soria's old space.

"I like it here. Everybody's cool and we treat it as a family, so I like it," Santana said.

Objective No. 1 is erasing the recent unpleasantness with the Angels, notably a 9-13 record, a 5.16 ERA and a Major League-high 39 home runs allowed in 2012. He spent eight years with the Angels, and this was the worst.

Santana, however, is supremely confident he can be more like the pitcher of 2010-11 when he was a combined 28-22 with a 3.65 ERA, making 33 starts each season with an average of 225 innings.

"Of course," he said. "It was a bad year, but, to me, that's in the past, so now I have to prepare and get ready and work on some stuff that I didn't have last year. This year, throwing the bullpens and facing guys in BP, I feel comfortable and I see the difference. Everything is working how I want it. So I'm 100 percent confident."

There's nothing mysterious about his approach.

"I'm just trying to locate the fastball and command the offspeed. That's it," he said. "If you don't command your fastball and your offspeed, you're in trouble."

Last year, pitch location was a concern for Santana, and balls up in the zone contributed to most of the homers. There's been no evidence of any elbow problem, sometimes speculated as a possible reason for his rough year.

"Since he's been here, every side session, every BP, every time he's stepped on the mound, he's been really, really good," Yost said.

"Everything is good, everything is perfect," Santana said.

Taking in his new surroundings, Santana acknowledges that the core of the Royals' lineup is still relatively young.

"Yeah, but they play hard and they can hit, too," Santana said. "So it's a good team."

Santana is from San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic, where he grew up playing baseball most of the time.

"I played baseball everywhere -- street, stadium, backyard, anywhere," he said. "Everybody in the Dominican played baseball like that."

His father, Jose Ramon Santana, is a tailor with his own shop and his mother, Consuelo, is a nurse at a hospital. He has two brothers and a sister.

In school, Santana said he was a "very good" student who had a fondness for math. However, he doesn't carry that over into the craze for intricate mathematical dissection of baseball statistics, including pitching.

"Some guys go crazy about that, but I don't," Santana said. "It doesn't matter if you do that or you don't do it. If you're gonna pitch good, you're gonna pitch good no matter what."

No sabermetrics for him.

"It's too much," he said. "For pitching, you just have to be focused and that's it. Try to keep it as simple as possible."

When it comes to relaxing off the field, Santana often plays video games.

"I like a lot of sports, action games, just to kill time," he said.

He has some favorites on Spanish language TV, too.

"I like the TV novelas from Colombia. Pablo Escobar [The Boss of Evil] and that kind of stuff," Santana said. "And I like scary movies."

All Yost cares about is how Santana does on the mound and in the clubhouse.

"He's quiet but there's an aura about him that commands respect from his teammates," Yost said. "He's not a guy that's loud and boisterous but through his actions and his work ethic and his presence in the clubhouse and on the field, I can see that he's commanding respect. He doesn't demand it, but he earned it. You know that this guy is a leader."

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, who traded Santana, had encouraging words as well.

"Ervin is a great guy and a good teammate," Dipoto said. "He did not have a particularly good year for us last year, but did have a pretty solid second half. They're getting a guy with a proven track record who has a history of bouncing back from subpar-type years. I don't see any reason he won't bounce back again."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.