GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Carlos Santana logged less time at first base last year than he did in 2011, and that trend probably will continue.
With more than enough players qualified to play first, there is little reason to move Santana from behind the plate, except to give him an occasional break from catching by using him at designated hitter. Nick Swisher will be the everyday first baseman and career first baseman Mark Reynolds will man the DH spot most of the time.
“We need to play (backup catcher) Lou Marson enough that he can be useful,” manager Terry Francona said Sunday. “But those things have a way of working themselves out.”
In his 2½ years in the big leagues, Santana has started 223 games behind the plate, 83 at first (20 last year) and 33 at DH. If Francona has to move players around, he won’t be shy about it.
“I think this is one of the most versatile teams I’ve ever seen,” the manager said. “Mike Aviles comes to mind first. We were in Minnesota, and I put him in right field. He hadn’t been out there.
“A ball went over his head — I don’t know if he could have gotten it anyway — but I had enough confidence in him to think, ‘Just go do it.’ And with some reps, he’ll be fine.”
Francona was talking about a situation that occurred two years ago, when he managed the Red Sox and Aviles was one of his utility players.
Aviles has played mostly shortstop, third and second, but Francona plans to make him available for left and right.
Bucking a trend
One of the most overworked aphorisms in baseball is that from year to year, bullpens can’t maintain consistency, and there isn’t much anyone can do about it.
For the past two seasons, Tribe relievers have defied that adage, and Francona doesn’t see why his bullpen won’t continue to be productive. In fact, it might be the strongest segment of the roster.
“These guys are pretty good,” Francona said. “When you have an anchor at the end, it makes it easier to put together a bullpen. You build it backward to forward.”
Closer Chris Perez has 75 saves in 83 opportunities the past two years. Vinnie Pestano has become a slam-dunk setup man, and Joe Smith has been close to flawless as the seventh-inning specialist.
“Vinnie has turned into a dominating pitcher,” Francona said. “Joe has always been tough on righties, and now he can get lefties out.
“Then we have young guys like Cody Allen — his stuff is nasty — and Nick Hagadone. His stuff is off the charts. But with some of these long lever guys (tall), it just takes awhile to get enough repetitions.”
How about lefties?
At the moment, having a left-hander in the bullpen is not a sure thing.
Hagadone has the best chance to latch onto a job, though Scott Barnes, David Huff (if he does not remain a starter) and Rich Hill will have a chance to compete for a spot.
Speaking of Hill, a nonroster invitee, Francona said, “Just when he was figuring it out, he got hurt. But when he’s throwing strikes, he’s very difficult for left-handed batters to face.”
But is there a lefty in the bullpen future for sure?
“I certainly would like that,” Francona said. “But I learned the hard way that when you have a guy you’re not comfortable with, it doesn’t turn out well.”
Too many chiefs?
Because all three starting outfielders — Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs — are career center fielders, they are all accustomed to taking charge on fly balls.
Is Francona afraid that their instinct to be the boss might cause a problem?
“The fact that all three are used to being in charge is a plus,” the manager said.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.