CHICAGO -- The wind could be howling out at Wrigley Field tonight and the brick wall that exists beneath the ivy is unforgiving. As if that is not intimidating enough, Carlos Santana will be dealing with the inherent pressure that comes with playing on the World Series stage.Even with those
CHICAGO -- The wind could be howling out at Wrigley Field tonight and the brick wall that exists beneath the ivy is unforgiving. As if that is not intimidating enough, Carlos Santana will be dealing with the inherent pressure that comes with playing on the World Series stage.
Even with those factors in mind, the Indians are playing Santana -- a first baseman and designated hitter by trade -- in left field for Game 3 of the Fall Classic against the Cubs.
"You try to figure out, 'OK, what's our best way to win?'" Indians manager Terry Francona said during Thursday's workout. "If we don't play him out there, that's the best way to have nobody second-guessing me. I don't know if that's the best way to win."
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Cleveland's conundrum is that there is no DH under National League rules, meaning that either Mike Napoli or Santana would have been rendered a pinch-hitter barring something unconventional. Francona has never lived within the boundaries of convention, and Santana has been one of the Indians' most potent and productive bats.
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Santana took fly balls in left field during pregame drills in Cleveland over the past few days, and he did so again under the Wrigley Field lights Thursday night. The switch-hitting first baseman has only logged four innings as a left fielder in the Majors -- back on Aug. 12, 2012. Before heading out to left during the workout, Santana sat in the dugout and expressed enthusiasm over the possibility of playing the outfield.
"I'm excited," Santana said. "Tito, he tries to put out the best lineup. And this is where we are. I'll be OK. I'll be fine. We'll see what happens when I'm playing left field."
While in Cleveland, the Cubs used Kyle Schwarber as the DH under the American League rules, and he responded by going 3-for-7 with two RBIs. Schwarber, who returned in time for the World Series after a long comeback from a left knee injury, has not been cleared to play the field, though. So while the Indians were trying to keep Santana in the lineup, Chicago is losing one of its key offensive weapons.
On Thursday, Francona jokingly sent a text message to Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations.
"You should be a little extra careful with him," texted Cleveland's manager.
Santana has a history of playing other positions, but they were not realistic solutions.
His days as a catcher are too far gone and Roberto Pérez has excelled behind the plate this postseason. Santana attempted to try his hand at third base a few years ago, but that experiment did not last long. Asked if he would consider Santana at third, Francona said he did not want to have two players out of position. Jose Ramirez manned left earlier this year, but he is a much better defender at third.
Napoli played some left field last year, but that was also not under consideration.
"It was a circus last year with me out there," Napoli said. "So I wouldn't go out there in this situation."
Santana, on the other hand, is more than willing to accept the assignment. He and Napoli each launched 34 home runs this year, and Santana added 31 doubles, 87 RBIs, 89 runs and 99 walks while shifting between the leadoff spot and the No. 5 slot in the batting order. Santana's .865 OPS was a career-best showing, too.
Even though Santana has hit just .143 (5-for-35) in the postseason, the Indians did not want his bat getting even colder on the bench.
"It's no big secret," Francona said. "We're trying to balance scoring more runs than them. He's a big part of our offense."
There is not much precedent for a DH playing a position other than first base under NL guidelines in the World Series. Most have either started at first or served as a pinch-hitter off the bench. In some cases, teams have had more versatility in the DH role, making it less of a burden in the World Series. The 2011 Rangers, '08 Rays, '06 Tigers and '03 Yankees, for example, rotated multiple players through the DH spot, with some being able to handle positions other than first.
The Indians believe Santana is up for the task.
"Carlos is a pretty athletic guy," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "That's why we've been willing to try some of those [other positions with him]. We're confident that he'll be able to go out there and perform well enough defensively where it'll justify having his bat in the lineup."
Still, there is that imposing brick wall. And as bench coach and outfield coach Brad Mills pointed out, the forecast calls for wind gusts between 25-40 mph. On the mound will be Indians starter Josh Tomlin, who is primarily a fly-ball pitcher.
Francona weighed all of those factors before officially making his decision.
"I have anxiety about it," Francona admitted Thursday. "I don't know how else to say it. And if he messes a ball up, I'll take responsibility, because I don't think it's fair to put it on him."
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.