Francona names Santana starting 3B, for now
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Terry Francona uttered six words on Tuesday that will leave a whole lot of interpretation over the next month.
By saying that "Carlos is going to play third" indications are Santana will be the starting third baseman on March 31 in Oakland. What happens beyond that is something that Francona is not willing to commit to.
With Lonnie Chisenhall also assured a spot on the Opening Day roster, Francona’s next challenge is figuring out how to divide the time. Francona did note that he said at the beginning of spring training that he thought he could filled the best team with both Santana and Chisenhall.
"I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to play itself out. I don’t know if anybody really is," Francona said. "I think Carlos has done an outstanding job of not only showing us that he can play third, but having the ability to catch a major-league game at the same time. That’s a phenomenal skill set."
Chisenhall, who found out on Monday that he had earned a spot, wished that the decision could have been made sooner but also knew the different factors that went into the evaluation.
Chisenhall found out on Monday that he has made the Indians Opening Day roster but his role remains fluid. On Tuesday, Terry Francona said that Carlos Santana will be the starting third baseman, which was expected. After getting an off day Monday, Santana was back at third on Tuesday as the Tribe faced the Rangers.
Throughout spring training, Chisenhall was confident that he could retain his spot at third, but on Tuesday sounded like he was ready for whatever role Francona was ready to give him.
"They told me whatever they ask me to do to be ready — pinch run, play defense, pinch hit, play the outfield. When I get in there I have to make the most of my opportunities," he said.
During the spring, Francona has shown that there is room for both in the lineup. This past weekend, Santana was at third, designated hitter and catcher while Chisenhall played third two days and was DH the other.
Chisenhall is batting .308 in 17 spring games but what has impressed Francona and general manager Chris Antonetti the most is how much Chisenhall has matured in his approach to the game. Chisenhall was a first-round pick by the Indians in 2008 but has struggled to find firm footing in the majors. Last season, Chisenhall started the season with Cleveland but was hitting .213 in 26 games before being optioned to Triple-A Columbus in mid-May.
After being recalled from Columbus, Chisenhall ended up hitting .231 the rest of the season. An encouraging aspect of Chisenhall’s spring at the plate is that he has a .222 average against lefties. He was .111 last season and .184 in 2012.
This spring, Chisenhall’s competition wasn’t against Santana. It was against himself while trying to get better as a player.
"I think they wanted to see me compete and grow as a player and person," Chisenhall said. "I think I covered most of those bases. I had a good spring and was satisfied with my at-bats along with my play over at third. I’ve gotten better over last year. I can feel it.
"When you take the outside factors out that you can’t control, it makes things easier. Get your work in and let the game take care of itself."
Francona said that Monday’s discussions with Chisenhall were the most encouraging he’s had because it showed the level of maturity and that he understands what is being asked.
Added Francona: "He wants to be a good player. It hasn’t come as quick as he would like. That doesn’t mean it is not going to come."
After finding out about making the team, Chisenhall had his second homer of the spring in Monday’s 8-3 win over the Reds. Even though he struggled last year, he saw the various pieces that Francona moved around to make the roster work. Now that his role is not as defined, Chisenhall does have faith that it will work out.
"It’s a matter of he is going to put you in a situation to succeed," said Chisenhall of Francona. "Now I just have to wait for my name to be called."