CLEVELAND -- In his previous start on Sunday against the Red Sox, Twins right-hander Ervin Santana exited the game after allowing six runs on five hits, including four home runs, causing his ERA to rise from 0.66 to 1.72. It was the first loss of the season for Santana, who had been one of the best pitchers in baseball to that point.
But Santana returned to form on Friday night against the Indians, as the right-hander led the Twins to a 1-0 victory over the Indians. Santana pitched seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball and struck out four on 99 pitches to earn his sixth win of the season.
Although he didn't have a strong feel for his slider on Friday, Santana turned to his fastball and his changeup to keep the Tribe hitters off balance throughout the game.
"I think he got most of his swings and misses tonight on fastballs," Twins manager Paul Molitor said of Santana. "The slider that we've seen him get chase pitches from the righties really wasn't there. The changeup, I think he mixed that in a little bit better with left-handers, at least. I thought that his ability to get elevated fastballs by some guys kind of kept him going."
After Santana's strong outing, his ERA has dropped to 1.50 and opposing hitters are now only batting .129 against him. But despite his line, Santana labored through a few innings as he tried to maintain the 1-0 lead. He fell behind several Indians hitters, forcing him to work his way out of jams in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
"First pitch strike wasn't working, but I was able to find a way to put a zero on the board and get people out," Santana said.
"I just didn't try to do too much, I just tried to keep the ball down and tried to make them to make contact."
The biggest jam that Santana had to work out of came in the fifth inning. After holding the Indians to one hit through four innings, the right-hander allowed a leadoff single to Yan Gomes, issued a one-out walk to Carlos Santana and hit Michael Brantley with a pitch to load the bases with two outs for Edwin Encarnacion. Santana fell behind 2-1, but he got the Indians' designated hitter to line out to center to end the inning.
"You've got to give yourself more than one chance a night," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We hit a few balls good, but he's in a really good place. He's throwing the ball where he wants to. Has some life, has some cut. Really got in on our left-handers and made them think 'in,' with cutter and fastball. He has walks, but I'm not sure all of them are because he's not commanding. I think he's just navigating his way through the order."
Santana pitched a perfect seventh inning, and was replaced in the eighth by left-hander Taylor Rogers, who combined with right-hander Matt Belisle to work a scoreless inning before closer Brandon Kintzler set the Indians down in order in the ninth.
"[There was] a stressful inning where he had to get off the field with the bases loaded, and he came back out and had a clean seventh and he was right around 100 [pitches]," Molitor said. "Ervin is very forthright. He talked about going back out there. It actually matched up well with Rogers facing those two guys in the eighth. [Santana] said he was good, and I said, "Yes, you were.'"
William Kosileski is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland who covered the Twins on Friday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.