Rob Antony was serving as the interim general manager for the Twins last Aug. 1, which was the final day for nonwaiver trades in the major leagues. Antony went down to the midafternoon deadline before succeeding in his most important task:
Trading Ricky Nolasco, a subpar starting pitcher with an off-putting personality.
The player received in return was Hector Santiago, also a starting pitcher, a lefthander with the Los Angeles Angels.
Santiago’s first four starts with Minnesota produced an ERA of 10.89, leading to suggestions the Twins somehow had managed to get taken in a deal for Nolasco.
Then, Hector’s last seven starts were respectable, and the Twins offered him arbitration for 2017.
Why not? Part of the trade was the Twins would make up the difference between Nolasco’s salary ($12 million) and Santiago’s for 2017. Hector settled for $8 million, meaning the Twins have to pony up $4 million to the Angels in 2017.
The Angels gave Nolasco the Opening Day start. He went 5⅔ innings and was a 4-2 loser to Oakland.
Enjoy him in your golden years as a manager, Mike Scioscia.
Paul Molitor and his on-field staff are intrigued by what Santiago can add to a largely veteran rotation, and also grateful to have the attitude he brings to the job.
“Hector’s always 100 percent ready to go, while also talking more as he warms up than any pitcher I’ve been around,’’ said Eddie Guardado, the bullpen coach. “He throws all of his pitches — six or seven different ones — and you get a report on all of them.’’
Santiago spent 2½ weeks in the middle of March with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Before he left, Molitor said Santiago would follow Ervin Santana in the rotation.
Santana won the opener for the Twins on Monday with seven strong innings, and Santiago’s turn came Wednesday — in front of the smallest announced crowd (15,171) in a Target Field history that started in 2010.
Big Erv has a traditional mix of pitches that has served him well for a dozen years. Hector is something else. He uses jabs, hooks, uppercuts and footwork to deal with hitters.
Santiago had five 3-2 counts in the first three innings. Two of those turned into walks, after he opened the game by hitting Alex Gordon with a 2-2 pitch. Those opportunities added up to zero runs for Kansas City.
Meantime, Royals starter Ian Kennedy gave the Twins three walks in the second inning, and the home team turned those into three runs.
Asked about the 3-2 counts, Santiago said: “I don’t want to be there, that’s for sure. I had some trouble getting a grip on the ball [in the cold]. I couldn’t throw the curveball for a strike.’’
Fortunately for Hector, he had a few other pitches on which to lean.
“Fastball, cutter, slider; I don’t think [the Twins] know I throw a cutter, but I did today,’’ Santiago said. “Also changeup, screwball … and, oh, a two-seamer.’’
The two-seamer is the sinker to go with a higher-riding fastball that reaches 93 miles per hour.
Santiago also has two changeups: the straight change and the screwball. The Twins have been lobbying with Santiago to throw the straight change more often.
(Note: The Twins have asked every pitcher to come through the clubhouse door in the past decade to throw more changeups, apparently feeling this could turn them into duplicates of Johan Santana.)
As baseball fans, we should hope that Hector doesn’t follow the straight change advice completely, since the screwball is much more interesting. Three years ago, the New York Times did a long feature on the lost art of the screwball, and Santiago was identified as the No. 1 remaining proponent of the pitch.
For that article, Santiago showed the reporter the grip required to create the clockwise spin on a screwball and described it thusly: “[It’s] like driving on your right wheels going around a curve.’’
Santiago said he threw seven screwballs among his 88 pitches on Wednesday. “I like the screwball; it has more depth [drop] than the straight change,’’ he said.
Hector took a 3-1 lead into the sixth and left after an opening single by Mike Moustakas. The Twins piled it on later for a 9-1 victory that went to Santiago.
A reporter thought he saw a couple of quick pitches as part of Hector’s trickery. “We didn’t do that today, not in the first start,’’ he said. “Later. We left some stuff in the bag for later.’’
Maybe not the best, but definitely more interesting than Ricky Nolasco.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org