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Santana shining defensively at third

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Terry Francona already had plenty of faith in Carlos Santana's ability to make a smooth transition from catcher and first base to third. But even he has been impressed with Santana's ability to flash the leather at the hot corner.

"I thought he played a nice game last night. I think the biggest thing is, he didn't look like a catcher," Francona said. "I know we're just 11 games into the season, but I don't get asked questions about him. I think what he's done is actually phenomenal."

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CHICAGO -- Terry Francona already had plenty of faith in Carlos Santana's ability to make a smooth transition from catcher and first base to third. But even he has been impressed with Santana's ability to flash the leather at the hot corner.

"I thought he played a nice game last night. I think the biggest thing is, he didn't look like a catcher," Francona said. "I know we're just 11 games into the season, but I don't get asked questions about him. I think what he's done is actually phenomenal."

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Santana indeed looked like a natural third baseman in Friday's game. In the third, he snagged a sharply hit one-hop grounder off the bat of Alexei Ramirez by backing up and backhanding the ball, and then he made a strong throw across the diamond. It was one of several pretty plays Santana made on the night.

With the emergence of Yan Gomes behind the plate, finding another place to get Santana's bat in the lineup became a necessity. Entering Saturday's game, Santana had played six games at third, three as the designated hitter and two at catcher, where he started Saturday. The rotation between positions helps reduce the stress catching puts on Santana's body.

"I like it, it's good and I'm playing very well there, so I feel good and like it," Santana said. "I think it's like, I worked so hard in Spring Training, and I'm just happy how I look natural."

Francona said Santana took ground balls every day of Spring Training except one and was on board with changing positions when the Indians approached him midway through camp.

"When a guy looks at you and says, 'I'll do anything I can to help you guys win,' especially when he's your cleanup hitter, that's nice to hear," Francona said.

Even with Santana's dedication to excelling at the position, Francona called Santana's progression at third the "best-case scenario."

"I think he's underrated. I think his athleticism is underrated," Francona said. "For him to be able to go behind the plate and do what he does is not easy. He's a pretty athletic kid. He's done a good job. I think he's liking it. I think he's enjoying it."

Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com.

Cleveland Indians, Carlos Santana