ARLINGTON, Texas: Carlos Santana is billed as the Indians’ everyday catcher, but in the past 13 games, Yan Gomes has been behind the plate eight times, Santana five.
A backup catcher usually fills in for the regular once a week, sometimes twice. Gomes is getting major playing time, mostly because he has put up impact numbers at the plate.
But that’s not the only reason manager Terry Francona has shuttled Santana between three positions.
“There are a lot of things involved,” Francona said Wednesday. “We’ve been going with three extra players [most teams have four on the bench]. Carlos has the versatility to move around, and we don’t want Gomes to sit too much, because that can hurt his development.”
Santana has been used at first base twice and as the designated hitter five times in the past 13 games. Gomes also has spent one game at DH the past two weeks.
Francona also is trying to ease the physical burden on Santana.
“Carlos wants to catch,” Francona said. “But this is good for him in the long run. It gives him a chance to have more life in his body. When he was struggling, his swing got a little long. He does a lot of damage when he’s down in the count, because he’ll shorten up his swing start hitting line drives.”
Whether Santana’s long swing is related to fatigue is open to question, but cutting down on his time behind the plate probably will help to extend his prime as an offensive player.
Santana’s versatility isn’t the only reason Francona can get away with a three-man bench. Mike Aviles plays second, third and short plus the corner outfield spots; John McDonald also plays second, third and short. That leaves Jason Giambi as the only reserve limited to one role, backup designated hitter, and even Giambi could fill in at first, if necessary.
If Gomes is a bench player that makes four on the roster. However, Gomes has moved out of that category to become at least a semi-regular.
Francona has chosen to fill his roster with 12 position players/designated hitters and 13 pitchers, giving him eight relievers, one more than the norm.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that the whole season,” he said. “But I love having the extra guy in the bullpen, because when you don’t have to get Cody [Allen] and Bryan [Shaw] up all the time, it really helps. Those guys are our big innings guys in the bullpen.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.