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Santana appears likely to play in 2011 opener

Santana appears likely to play in 2011 opener

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Santana appears likely to play in 2011 opener
CLEVELAND -- Having Carlos Santana in the Opening Day lineup is becoming less of a hope and more of a reality for the Indians.

Santana -- now six months removed from surgery on his left knee -- has been cleared to begin Spring Training with no restrictions. That is great news for Cleveland, which holds its first official workout for its pitchers and catchers on Feb. 17. The club's first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 20.

On Monday, Dr. Rick Parker made a special trip from Cleveland to the Tribe's spring site in Goodyear, Ariz., to personally evaluate Santana's progress. Parker, who repaired a damaged lateral collateral ligament in the catcher's left knee on Aug. 6, gave Santana the go-ahead to expand his current workouts.

The switch-hitting Santana has been cleared to immediately take part in full batting-practice activities. Santana was also told he can begin catching bullpen sessions for Indians pitchers. Next week, the catcher can start position-specific agility drills and full baserunning exercises.

If everything goes according to plan, Santana should be able to begin playing in Cactus League games for the Tribe when the exhibition season opens with a Feb. 27 tilt against the Reds. That would put the 24-year-old catcher on target to be ready in time for the Indians' regular-season opener on April 1 against the White Sox.

Santana, 24, spent the entire offseason rehabbing his knee at the club's base in Arizona. He projects to be the starter behind the plate and a part of the middle of the lineup after his injury-shortened rookie campaign. In 46 games with Cleveland in 2010, Santana hit .260 with six homers, 22 RBIs and a .401 on-base percentage.

Like Santana, Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore is also coming back from a left knee operation. Sizemore's rehab process from the microfracture surgery he underwent in June is more complicated, though. On Monday, Tribe general manager Chris Antonetti noted that Sizemore added a running routine to his baseball workouts last week.

Cleveland's hope is that Sizemore will also be ready in time for Opening Day, but the club is prepared to take a conservative approach with the center fielder throughout Spring Training. As things stand, Sizemore's schedule could call for him to be held out of Cactus League games until mid-March.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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