ANAHEIM: It was just one game.
But if the way Carlos Santana swung the bat Monday night against the Los Angeles Angels is any indication, the season might finally be turning in the right direction for the Indians’ clean-up hitter.
Santana took on the added responsibility of splitting his time between his new position at third base, and his old spot as a reserve catcher this season, giving the Indians some added versatility. But in the first month of the season Santana’s offense suffered.
“I’ve been trying, working really hard,” he said. “I feel I’m close.”
Santana opened the season with six hits in his first 19 at-bats. But he managed only four in his next 63 plate appearances and struck out 19 times as his batting average fell to .122.
But Indians manager Terry Francona kept Santana in the four-hole, confident he’d break out of his malaise soon enough.
“Carlos is going to hit,” Francona kept saying. “And when he does, he’s going to get hot. If I didn’t think he was going to hit, I’d have moved him (down in the lineup.)”
Francona also said that the switch-hitting Santana provides valuable protection in the lineup for those near him, and moving him would upset that balance and perhaps even cause others to struggle.
Francona’s patience began to pay off Monday night when Santana snapped an 0-for-12 with a 2-for-4 effort that included a three-run home run in the fourth inning.
After the game, Santana expressed his appreciation for Francona sticking with him, admitting it helped his confidence and kept him from getting too frustrated with the slow process of finding his swing.
Now, if only Francona could do something about the Indians’ shaky defense. They leader the American League in errors with 24 and have committed at least one error in their past 17 games.
Monday, a misplayed ball in the outfield in the first inning turned into a triple for Mike Trout and led to the Angels’ first run. But the error that really hurt them came in the eighth inning when first baseman Nick Swisher’s bobbled a grounder off the bat of J.B. Shuck.
The miscue opened the door for the Angels’ three-run eighth inning that handed them a 6-3 victory in the first game of the series. Tuesday, Francona gave Swisher, who had started to heat up at the plate, the day off with Santana taking over at first base.
One of the first questions Francona took after Monday’s late-inning collapse was his thoughts about leaving starter Justin Masterson in the game to face Raul Ibanez with the Angels rallying with one out in the eighth. It seemed odd for a manager with such great feel for utilizing his bullpen that Francona didn’t go to a reliever, especially since he had one warming up.
Francona cited Masterson’s success against Ibanez earlier in the game (Masterson had struck him out twice, but also gave up a single). But what Francona didn’t say was that he probably pushed a little too hard to try to get Masterson his first win.
Instead, the Angels went on to tag Masterson for six runs (five earned) on seven hits in 7? innings. The result was Masterson finally getting a decision, as he joked afterwards “a big fat ‘L’?”.
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.