Covering the Bases: March 8

Santana2Final: Indians 4, Padres 4 (10 innings)

FIRST: It has been hard to accurately gauge Carlos Santana’s progress at third base up to this point, because the sample size of in-game plays at the hot corner has been so small. On Saturday, San Diego gave Santana a few good tests.

Santana was forced to react to a variety of plays and, for the most part, he looked solid in getting to balls, but still a bit shaky when the time came to make the throw. He’s looked strong in morning workouts, but games have looked like a challenge at times.

“The one thing not to forget is he’s not the finished product,” Indians manager Terry Francona reminded.

That’s certainly fair, considering the difficulty of moving out from behind the plate and to one of the more difficult positions on the diamond. Spring Training is where errors are meant to be made. It exposes the kinks that need to be ironed out. Well, Santana still has plenty of work to do as he tries to prove he can handle third base, if only as a part-time option.

In the second inning against the Padres, Chris Denorfia chopped a pitch to Santana’s left. He moved to the side well, gloved the ball cleanly and made a nice throw for the out. Santana came through again for a 5-3 putout on a grounder from Will Venable. In the seventh inning, though, Santana hit a snag.

Tommy Medica hit another ball Santana’s way, and the third baseman corralled it fine. As was the case on one play earlier this spring, Santana botched the throw. Both times, the throw has sailed high. In this case, it forced first baseman Jesus Aguilar to reach and come off the bag, allowing Medica to reach safely.

“He’s working really hard,” Francona said of Santana. “If he can continue to get some rhythm. At times, he’ll catch the ball and then he doesn’t move his feet. He’s got plenty of arm, and that’s where you’re seeing him scatter a ball every once in a while. It’s still a work in progress. The good news is he’s willing to work.”

Two plays after the throwing error, Ryan Jackson used a sacrifice bunt down the third-base line to move Medica from second to third base. Santana was forced to charge in, scoop up the ball and fire to first on the run. It was the first time Santana has faced that specific play this spring and he completed the play cleanly.

This will continue to be an interesting story over the next few weeks. Francona noted on Friday that he will sit down with Santana within the next few days to map out the plan for the rest of the schedule. One thing Cleveland needs to determine is how much catching Santana might want to mix in in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.

SECOND: Earlier this spring, Indians left fielder Michael Brantley said that there have been times during an offseason when he’s had to stop hitting for a few days. It doesn’t take Dr. Smooth long to get a feel for his swing. Sometimes, maybe he feels primed a little too early. He’s definitely found his stroke early on this spring.

In the tie with the Padres, Brantley churned out four hits: single (first inning), single (third), double (fifth) and double (eighth). For those keeping score at home, he’s not hitting .615 (8-for-13) on the spring. Over the course of his career, Brantley has posted a .325 (82-for-252) batting average.

“I’m stating the obvious,” Francona said. “He uses the whole field and he’s got a nice swing. I don’t know if it matters what time of year it is. He’s a good hitter.”

Brantley is what you might call a “Christmas Day hitter.” He can roll out of bed on Christmas morning, step in the batter’s box and collect a few knocks.

THIRD: Santana and Brantley joined lineup regulars Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and David Murphy in having four plate appearances apiece. It’s only March 8, but the time has come to start building the hitters back up to the full work load. Francona said the next step is starting players in consecutive games.

“It was nice,” Francona said. “Once we had that long first inning, I wanted them to get deeper into the game and get that fourth at-bat. They’ve been going every other day for the most part. In the next week or so, you’ll see some guys play back to back games and start to get built up.

HOME: The Indians ended Saturday’s game with 11 strikeouts and no walks. That gives the Tribe 27 strikeouts and zero free passes over the past 19 innings (two games). In fact, as of this writing, Cleveland ranked first in the Majors this spring in both ERA (2.77) and WHIP (1.05). The Indians also boasted a 3.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It’s only 10 games, and it’s only Spring Training, but these are strong developments.

Now, don’t blame me if the Indians are involved in a slugfest tomorrow…

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Catch up on Cleveland’s camp with these links…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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