Tito hopes leadoff duty ignites Santana's bat

Tito hopes leadoff duty ignites Santana's bat

DETROIT -- Terry Francona does not know how long Carlos Santana will serve as the leadoff hitter, but the Indians' manager is not ready to pull the plug on the experiment.

Santana made his first career appearance out of the leadoff spot in Friday's 2-1 win over Detroit and went 2-for-4 with a home run and double, while averaging 4.5 pitches per plate appearance. It was a strong enough showing to convince Francona to keep the switch-hitting first baseman atop the order for Saturday's 10-1 win, and perhaps for a while longer.

"Again, I don't think Carlos is going to be a leadoff hitter the rest of his career," Francona said on Saturday morning. "But, I also think that he can do some things that are pretty special as a leadoff hitter that can change a game."

This is not unfamiliar territory for Francona.

When he was the manager of the Red Sox in 2006, Francona installed Kevin Youkilis in the leadoff spot for the same reasons as Santana. Youkilis had a keen eye and great on-base ability, leading Francona to believe he would be a great fit in the No. 1 role. In 95 starts as Boston's leadoff man, Youkilis produced a .286/.385/.430 slash line to support his manager's thinking.

There was one problem with the Youkilis situation.

"He did not like it," Francona said. "I thought he was the perfect [leadoff man]. He could get on base like nobody's business and he had long at-bats, but he didn't like it. He didn't mind hitting second. He just didn't like hitting first. He'd do it, but it just was like, 'Man, why am I asking somebody to do something they just don't like?'"

Santana has a great knack for seeing pitches and getting on base, and the Indians' former cleanup hitter has been open-minded about the leadoff idea since Francona brought it up during Spring Training. For the time being, the manager plans on seeing if the move can help Santana get on an offensive roll at the plate.

"I worry about the middle of the lineup," Francona said. "But, he swung the bat good [Friday] night. If he wants to heat up, and if he gets to hit one more time, that would be good, too."

Santana went 2-for-5 with an RBI on Saturday to raise his average to .218.

Santana's RBI double

Other items of note:

• Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (on the 15-day disabled list recovering from offseason right shoulder surgery) went 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored in a Minor League rehab game with Triple-A Columbus on Friday. Brantley was slated to play again for the Clippers on Saturday before being reevaluated by Cleveland on Sunday. It is possible that Brantley could be activated on Monday in Minnesota.

• All indications are that right-hander Tommy Hunter, who is on the 15-day DL while coming back from offseason core-muscle surgery, is progressing well in his rehab assignment with Columbus. Through five rehab appearances, Hunter has a 1.50 ERA with four strikeouts and no walks in six innings. There is no firm timetable for his activation.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.