Goodyear, Ariz.: The Indians still have a number of moving parts that could affect the everyday lineup. As things stand now, it appears as though Carlos Santana could be the team’s leadoff hitter to begin the 2017 regular season.
Santana primarily hit leadoff against right-handed pitchers last season, while Rajai Davis took over that spot against left-handed starters. With Davis gone, and with Jason Kipnis being out of the lineup as he rehabs from shoulder inflammation, Santana could earn the title of everyday leadoff man. That could also become the case for the remainder of the season.
These decisions, though, could also be based on Michael Brantley’s health.
“For the first week of the season, probably,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Santana hitting leadoff. “But I haven’t spent as much time [on it] as maybe people would think just because a big enough hitter as Brantley changes a lot of things in your order. ... Michael’s been our three hitter pretty much the whole time, so that can change things.”
The Indians adding Edwin Encarnacion and a healthy Brantley into the middle of the order would create some issues with everyone healthy. Last year, Kipnis and Francisco Lindor slotted second and third, respectively, in the lineup.
Because of Santana’s versatility as a hitter who can get on base at a high rate while also driving in runs, the Indians could potentially bat Kipnis in the leadoff spot, Lindor second and then follow them with Brantley and Encarnacion. Santana and Jose Ramirez would then hit fifth and sixth.
Kipnis’ absence essentially resolves that issue in the early going. With him out, Santana’s ability to get on base could take precedence over his power.
“I do like the idea of Santana’s on-base skills,” Francona said. “And the other thing to think about is you certainly want to protect Edwin. I think people look at Santana and think he’s perfect, and he is good. Sometimes I think [Jose] Ramirez is even better just because he doesn’t strike out, and he’s a switch hitter. It could go either way. Those guys are kind of interchangeable.”
Santana might hit in a couple different spots in the lineup. He could also find himself in a couple different positions within the first few series of the season.
After the Indians’ season-opening series against the Texas Rangers, they’ll return to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks — with National League rules and the loss of the designated hitter spot.
Like in the World Series, the Indians could place Santana in left field or right field to keep his bat in the lineup.
“Just to try to keep every option open that there is,” Francona said. “Carlos is really open to it. I don’t know. We’ll see. I love the fact that he’s willing to. ... He has really done a good job. He’s worked hard at first this spring. He’s been tremendous. I guess I just want to make sure people know that.”
Santana and Encarnacion took more than 60 of the Indians’ Latin American players within the organization out to dinner at P.F. Chang’s earlier this season.
Following a seminar for many of the Latin American players within the system, Santana talked with Encarnacion about doing something for the younger guys.
Santana was following the lead of former shortstop Rafael Furcal, who once did it for Santana and other minor leaguers while with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
“I never forgot that,” Santana said.
Indians 9, Reds 6
Carlos Carrasco was stretched out to four innings and both Brantley and Yandy Diaz continued their torrid ends to the spring in a win over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.
Carrasco was hit hard for three runs in the first inning and four runs for the day on nine hits. He also struck out five. After the long first inning, Carrasco recovered to show the Indians what they had hoped to see as he continues to be stretched out.
“Give him some credit, because he got his four in and was still able to go out to the bullpen, and he threw the ball pretty well,” Francona said. “So, that was good. Again, in a spring training game, where you’re looking to build, he did OK.”
Brantley went 2-for-4 and drilled his second home run of the spring. He’s now hitting .391 in Cactus League play.
Diaz, still in the running for the third-base job for at least the first couple weeks of the season, also hit his second home run of the spring, a three-run shot to right field.
Diaz hasn’t made the decision easy.
“Yeah, I’ll admit, it’s been a little stressful for us, because when you’re not sure of something, there’s an unknown there,” Francona said. “He’s kind of a work in progress defensively and, it figures, nobody’s hit a ball to him in three days. But he is some kind of hitter and, whether he makes our club or not, that’s not going to deter our view of him.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians.