Santana excels in role as leading man

Santana excels in role as leading man

ARLINGTON -- Carlos Santana wasn't sure what to think as the baseball carried over right field in the first inning on Tuesday night. Rangers right fielder Nomar Mazara kept drifting back, eventually running out of room, as the ball dropped into the first row.

Maybe it was lucky. Some might call it a fluke. In the box score, it just went as a leadoff home run that set the tone for Cleveland in a 4-3 victory over Texas at Globe Life Park. And Santana showed once again why manager Terry Francona loves having him atop the order.

"I'm comfortable, actually, hitting Carlos anywhere," Francona said. "He's just a good hitter. I kind of like the idea right now of him hitting first."

Santana in the leadoff spot goes against baseball tradition.

Last year, Santana crushed 34 home runs and ended with 87 RBIs. He might have eclipsed the century mark in runs driven in had he been batting in the heart of the lineup. He balances that power with a keen and patient eye. His 4.24 pitches per plate appearance from 2013-16 ranks sixth overall in the Majors. He is second in baseball with 413 walks in that time period.

Against the Rangers, he put all of his abilities on display.

There was the leadoff homer -- the sixth of his career -- to give starter Carlos Carrasco a one-run lead right out of the chute. In the second inning, Santana stepped into the batter's box with two runners on base and sent one home with a RBI single. In the seventh, he grinded through eight pitches, drawing a walk to help prolong a rally.

Santana's RBI single

"He's a power threat," outfielder Brandon Guyer said. "But also, he's a guy that can get on base a lot, too. He might not be your prototypical leadoff hitter, but I don't really think it matters about speed. It's just about getting on base and doing damage, and he does that."

Santana, who was primarily a cleanup or No. 5 hitter before last season, said the move to the leadoff spot was a little difficult at first. As he gained more comfort in that role, the results followed. In 86 games in the No. 1 slot last season, he had 19 homers, an .887 OPS and more walks (67) than strikeouts (60). He had an .885 OPS to lead off games and a .993 OPS in 228 plate appearances leading off an inning.

"Now I feel comfortable," Santana said. "Baseball, it's different now. Before, the leadoff [batter] is the guy who's running or stealing bases. I know I take a lot of walks. That's why I'm hitting leadoff."

Leadoff home runs work, too.

Santana's shot came on a fastball over the middle of the plate from Rangers lefty Martin Perez. Batting right-handed, Santana pushed the ball at a launch angle of 41 degrees and an exit velocity of 98.3 mph. That combination has a hit probability of only nine percent, per Statcast™.

Whatever works.

"I was in between. Yes or no," said Santana when asked if he thought it was a home run. "But I was running hard. You never know, but it was a home run, and I was very happy for that."

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.