Indians manager Terry Francona slyly seemed to reveal his starting third baseman Tuesday, effectively ending a spring training battle between Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall.
While Chisenhall was told Monday he had made the Tribe’s 25-man roster for Opening Day, Francona gave no details on how Chisenhall would be used. Santana started converting from catcher in winter ball because he didn’t want to be the Indians’ regular designated hitter this season.
When that situation was brought up Tuesday, Francona said, “Carlos is going to play third.”
Presumably that means Santana will get the majority of the at-bats at a position he hasn’t played since he entered professional baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A career .254 hitter, Santana has produced 18 or more home runs the past three seasons. But he’s considerably more effective offensively when he doesn’t catch. He carries a career .266 average when he’s not behind the plate and has hit 28 home runs (including one as a pinch-hitter) in 200 games. In the 314 games he’s caught, he’s batted .246 with 43 home runs.
That difference in roles and batting average was even more pronounced for Santana in 2013. Last season he hit .249 as a catcher, .284 as a first baseman or designated hitter.
Asked if he could use Santana at third base and Chisenhall as the designated hitter against right-handers, Francona said, “Could do a few things. It gives us a lot of versatility.
“You have to be realistic, we have Bournie coming back and G. But things happen.”
The reference to center fielder Michael Bourn and designated hitter/first baseman Jason Giambi, both of whom will start the season on the disabled list, indicated Chisenhall might not hold onto his roster spot for long unless there are other injuries.
Bourn was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday with a strained left hamstring suffered March 16 and could miss the first four games. Giambi will go on the disabled list Sunday and could also miss the first four games. He suffered a nondisplaced rib fracture on his right side March 7.
Discussing how he would use Santana and Chisenhall, Francona said, “I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m not sure you really need to have one. Things happen.
“At the beginning of spring training I said I thought we could be the best team with Carlos and Lonnie. I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to play itself out now. I’m not sure anybody really is. I’d rather not to commit to. …
“Carlos has done an outstanding job showing not only can he play third, but having the ability to catch a major-league ballgame at the same time. I think that’s a phenomenal skill set.”
Chisenhall said Tuesday he had been told no details of where he would play.
“No, it’s up in the air,” Chisenhall said. “They told me whatever they asked me to do, be ready, whether it’s pinch run, play defense, start, DH, play left field, right field. When I get in there, make the most of my opportunities.”
General manager Chris Antonetti laid out the same kind of multipurpose role for Chisenhall when he talked about him Monday.
“To hear him talk about the work he needs to put in in the cages with Ty, working with Sarby, the routines to be ready for when Tito calls on him….” Antonetti said, referring to hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo and infield coach Mike Sarbaugh.
“If that’s to get four at-bats in the game or come in and pinch hit or play defense or pinch run, to hear Lonnie take responsibility for being that player that has that team-first approach, that was really encouraging.”
Chisenhall sounded like he was worried he’d be sent to Triple-A Columbus, where he spent 27 games last season after hitting .213 from the start of the season through May 12. The references to Bourn and Giambi, and Francona’s comment that “G’s with us,” sounded like a demotion could be a possibility again for Chisenhall.
“I’m not sure what they have planned, I’m just excited to be here,” Chisenhall said. “It’s a great team to be a part of, just being in the clubhouse, being a part of the major-league atmosphere, that’s everything I could ask for.”
By Marla Ridenour - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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