The world is Terry Francona’s playground and baseball is his tool. I don’t think that analogy makes any sense, but the point is Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona does a lot of fun things that we don’t always expect in the game of baseball.
Sometimes, like when Tito puts the guy with the highest on-base percentage in the leadoff spot, it’s a decision we can clearly see the reasoning behind. Other times, like having his catcher turned first baseman turned designated hitter go ahead and try out left field for the first time in the World Series, it makes a little less sense but we love it just as much anyway.
That’s exactly what happened last October, when Santana got his first-ever start in the outfield, and his first time there since 2012. It went well, if only because he only had one ball hit his way. But boy was it scary for a team desperately trying to win their first World Series in more than half a century.
Months later, it also provided this great quote from Tito looking back on the play:
On Santana in OF in World Series— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 30, 2017
Francona: "Only one ball was hit to him"
Reporter: "It was a screamer"
Francona: "That was me screaming"
This spring, Santana spent more time working in the outfield, likely as a way to improve his value in the free agent market as well as make himself more available for playing time with the Indians this season. He has said in the past that he does not like being a designated hitter, so it makes sense that he would do almost anything to avoid sitting around for 90 percent of a game if he really doesn’t like doing it.
That hard work has apparently paid off, as Tito told reporters on Wednesday that he expects Santana to play in the outfield this weekend when the Tribe heads to Arizona for their first taste of interleague play this season.
Tito says Santana will start in the outfield vs Az this weekend at Chase Field.— paul hoynes (@hoynsie) April 5, 2017
Offensively, it makes sense to sacrifice some defense to get both Santana and Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup, especially if Santana gets lucky and only sees a couple balls come his way again. Finding where to put Santana, even if you want to consider the entire outfield as a possibility, is another issue in itself.
Santana, a switch-hitter, has had more success against lefties (130 wRC+) than righties (123 wRC+) in his career. If Michael Brantley was still out, placing Santana in left field would be a simple decision against any pitcher, given the other outfield options. But with Doctor Smooth back, Santana might be better off in right field if the Indians are facing a right-handed pitcher, as left-handed Lonnie Chisenhall is currently on the disabled list. Against a left-handed pitcher, it wouldn’t make much sense to risk Santana in left over the lefty-destroying Brandon Guyer.
The probable starters for the Friday and Saturday in Arizona are both right-handed pitchers: Shelby Miller and Zack Greinke.
There’s also a chance that Santana could be put in left field on an off-day for Brantley, as the Indians appear set on easing their All-Star outfield back into the swing of things after missing almost an entire season to a devastating shoulder injury.
Francona: Brantley fine, available off bench. Manager wants to work in some days off when it makes sense in April. Keep big picture in mind.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) April 5, 2017
Brantley will be getting a day off tonight against the Texas Rangers, but since the game is being played in an American League park where the rules make sense, Santana will be the designated hitter instead of a pitcher pretending to hit in the lineup.