CLEVELAND -- Choosing who will pitch to you in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby is the most crucial decision each participant needs to make. With the hometown crowd behind him as a first-time All-Star and Derby contestant, Carlos Santana picked someone who would know his swing better than anyone else: Indians assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez.
“Well, it was a pleasure for me,” Rodriguez said. “I wasn’t expecting that. I think he wasn’t expecting that, either, to be in the Home Run Derby. He told me that if they asked him to be in the Home Run Derby, if I would like to throw to him. I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’”
Rodriguez and Santana’s working relationship is relatively new, as the hitting coach is in his second season on manager Terry Francona’s staff. But Santana missed out on Rodriguez’s first year with the Tribe, spending the 2018 season in Philadelphia. Clearly, it didn’t take long for the two to establish a close bond through the countless rounds of batting practice Rodriguez has tossed him in the cages prior to each game for Santana to turn to him with the Home Run Derby on the line as the representative of the host city.
“I think that’s the best thing, that it’s in Cleveland and this guy has worked hard all year to really be in that position,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very excited just to be a part of it.”
So how does a pitcher and a batter, a duo that’s usually competing against one another, establish a plan heading into the Home Run Derby that will allow Santana to best Pete Alonso of the Mets in the first round?
“When he’s in that mode of lifting the ball, you just have to bring it a little bit up in the zone,” Rodriguez said. “Right now, we’re just focusing on staying up the middle of the field, because we don’t want to distract his swing. He wants to finish strong, and we still have a couple more games.”
The biggest question that had remained unanswered was whether the switch-hitter would hit from the left or right side of the plate on Monday night, but his coach didn’t think twice when it was his turn to answer.
“It’s gotta be left-handed,” Rodriguez said. “The right field is a good place for him. In Progressive Field, the ball carries better to the right side than to the left side. But he has the power to hit it everywhere. But I think from the left side, he feels more comfortable.”
It’s a moment that Santana has dreamed about over the past few weeks. In three days, he’ll be announced as one of the Home Run Derby contestants on his home turf at Progressive Field with pressure to produce for his city.
“I think it’s a matter of not trying to do too much,” Rodriguez said. “Go there and take BP, because when he takes BP, he hits ball after ball after ball out. It’s an easy thing. I think when you try to do too much, that’s when you get tired and all the things that can go wrong.”
Not only does he want to perform in front of the home crowd, but Santana’s first Home Run Derby experience comes with the added pressure of securing the grand prize. For the first time, the winner of the Derby will win $1 million.
“Well, I think I’m gonna get more than half a million,” Rodriguez joked. “No, I think it’s just I’m being part of all the good things that have happened to him. It’s a pleasure to me. That’s all I want, for him to have a good time and to do well.”