Notes: Santana mulling Classic invite

Righty had got impression that Angels didn't want him to pitch

Ervin Santana tossed a career-high 192 innings last season in three stops at Double-A, Triple-A and the Angels. (Danny Moloshok/AP)

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ervin Santana caught the attention of the baseball world last season when he stepped into the Angels rotation and won 12 games.

He also caught the attention of those who run the sport in the Dominican Republic, and the young right-hander was named to the provisional roster to represent his home country in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

But Santana has a decision to make: whether or not to accept the invitation.

It has been a confusing process for Santana, who initially thought the Angels were asking him not to pitch, which they are not allowed to do according to the rules of the World Baseball Classic. The club said it was simply a miscommunication.

"The reality of it is, if they want to pitch for their country and they're healthy, we're not going to get in their way," manager Mike Scioscia said.

General manager Bill Stoneman concurred, citing health as the only reason for the club to object.

"To my knowledge he is healthy right now," Stoneman said. "The decision belongs to Santana."

Santana pitched in a career-high 192 innings last season, accumulated in his three stops at Double-A Arkansas, Triple-A Salt Lake and the Angels. He suffered an elbow strain in 2004 after throwing more than 140 innings in two straight years, and he wants to ensure he's ready for the regular season.

"They told me if I want to pitch, then pitch," Santana said. "I have to think about it."

He added that he would consult first base coach and fellow Dominican Alfredo Griffin.

High praise: The bullpen has been one of the key reasons to the Angels' success in recent years.

Statistically, it has ranked at the top or near the top, and the efforts of Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, Brendan Donnelly and former closer Troy Percival have set the bar. But the 2006 version may raise it even higher.

"Starting the season, this 'pen is the deepest we've had since I've been here," Scioscia said.

Rodriguez returns as closer with Shields as the primary setup man. Donnelly is also back, but the team added left-hander J.C. Romero during the offseason and will likely push another winter acquisition into the bullpen. With the signing of starting pitcher Jeff Weaver, the Angels will have the luxury of using Hector Carrasco in relief.

"This is the most balance we've had," Scioscia said. "We have only one lefty, but it gives us a power arm lefty. The versatility of this 'pen is good, too."

What Scioscia will have is an entire relief corps that has built-in flexibility. Rodriguez is more than a three-out closer, while Shields, Romero and Carrasco can go multiple innings. Additionally, Romero will not be utilized simply as a left-handed specialist.

"He is too good to narrow into that role," Scioscia said. "He has a good changeup that is effective against righties."

Pace yourself: With Spring Training being six weeks long and the season opener not until April 3, many players ease into their respective routines. Veterans especially know that it is better to be ready when the games count than to leave it on the practice field in March.

But for the younger players, that can be easier said than done. Right-handed prospect Tommy Mendoza was in that group Saturday, as he let loose and repeatedly popped the glove of his catcher, while Jeff Weaver, just two mounds away, threw calmly at about 50 percent intensity.

Key season: Kelvim Escobar is looking forward to returning to the starting rotation this year after going to the disabled list three times and having surgery on his right elbow in 2005.

Like Santana and Bartolo Colon, Escobar has a decision to make on whether or not to pitch in the WBC. He feels healthy, but knows a lot is riding on his choice.

"For me, I have to build strength in my arm," said Escobar, who would be a part of a solid Venezuelan pitching staff. "It is a big spring for me."

Angelic asides: Rodriguez was not in camp for the fourth straight day on Saturday, but Scioscia expects him as early as Tuesday. Rodriguez has been waiting for his visa. ... Dallas McPherson took ground balls at first base during pitchers' fielding practice on Saturday, and later did baserunning drills. ... The Angels have an intrasquad game tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 28.

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