CLEVELAND: In the same fashion that Cody Allen has quietly become the Indians’ closer, increasingly lately Carlos Santana’s primary position has become first base.
The Indians didn’t make a big deal about either change by announcing them. Rather, it’s just the way things have evolved over the first two and a half months of the season.
When veteran closer John Axford was removed from his ninth-inning role in early May, it was pretty obvious the logical choice to replace him would be Cody Allen. Tribe manager Terry Francona resisted labeling Allen the closer right away. Yet, when the phone in the bullpen has rung late in a game in which the Indians are ahead, it’s typically for Allen to start warming in preparation for the ninth inning.
Similarly, while Santana has served as a part-time first baseman for a couple years, his name has as increasingly become penciled in at the spot in Francona’s lineups.
Santana opened the season as the Indians’ third baseman after supplanting Lonnie Chisenhall in spring training. But he still served as Yan Gomes’ backup behind the plate. That is until he suffered the second concussion of his career on May 25 in Baltimore when Santana was jolted by a hard foul ball off his catcher’s mask.
“To be honest, we’re trying to put the best team out there we can,” Francona said when asked about Santana’s increased time at first. “Lonnie [Chisenhall] — I don’t think there’s anybody that would argue — deserves to be playing third base. We don’t do the positions necessarily by what guys want to do.”
After losing his role as the starting catcher after 3½ seasons, Santana didn’t want to become one-dimensional so early in his career. So he spent the offseason working at third base — a position he played early in his minor-league career.
But the scary concussion combined with Chisenhall’s surprising offensive start and first baseman Nick Swisher’s struggles at the plate and in the field, opened the door for more time for Santana at first. Over his last 19 games, Santana has been anchored to the first-base bag in 16 of them.
“Carlos worked really hard [to master third base],” Francona said. “But what’s kind of cool is that all the work he put in at third has made him a better first baseman. He’s more active. He’s more agile.”
Santana’s defense isn’t the only thing finally improving. After an agonizingly slow start at the plate in which he hit .151 in April and .169 in May, Santana’s increasingly showing signs of returning to the form of a productive clean-up hitter.
Since being activated from the seven-day disabled list June 6, he’s batting at a .340 clip (entering Sunday) that includes six doubles, four home runs, 13 RBI and a 1.114 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Dating back to May 22, he’d recorded 16 RBI over a 19-games stretch.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.