CHICAGO: This is the Carlos Santana the Indians and their fans have been waiting for.
Through his first 15 games of this season, the Tribe catcher is batting .352 with seven doubles, four home runs, nine RBI and 11 runs. His on-base percentage is .435, his slugging percentage is .709 and he has a 1.139 OPS. Those are the numbers of a Most Valuable Player candidate.
That doesn’t mean Santana is slump proof, and that he will endure an entire season hitting at a high level. But at no time last season or in 2011 did he attack pitches with such assured aggressiveness as he has this month.
The question is why?
Maybe he is older and wiser, maybe being removed from the cleanup spot has eased the pressure on him. One thing is certain — he has more accomplished hitters around him, up and down the lineup.
And one other thing has changed. He is not being asked to revamp his swing.
Former manager Manny Acta thought Santana was destined to be a special hitter, but he did not think Santana would reach his potential until he quieted his swing, took some of the movement out of it, particularly his habit of lifting his foot before taking a hack at a pitch.
Santana tried to alter his swing but never could master it.
“I tried the experiment day by day,” he said. “But I was thinking all the time.”
That is, Santana was thinking what his next movement should be rather than reacting naturally.
When Terry Francona took over as manager, the plan to redesign Santana’s swing ended. Francona believes that trying to revamp the swing of a hitter who has been using the same approach for years, maybe since he was a kid, usually isn’t going to work.
“Now I feel great,” Santana said. “All the time I try to swing hard, but this year I have more control, and I’m seeing the ball better.”
Santana was not in the lineup Wednesday, but it had nothing to do with his workmanship at the plate.
“Carlos has been sick for a couple of days,” Francona said. “He’s taking his meds; I just hope nobody else gets sick.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.