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Santiago brings versatility with bat, glove to Reds

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- During the offseason, free-agent utility infielder Ramon Santiago was asking his agent to find him a National League team to join. About two weeks before camp opened, the Reds became that team, signing Santiago to a Minor League contract and inviting him to Spring Training.

"I think my game is more of a National League style -- defense, bunting and pinch-hitting, double-switches," Santiago said. "It's a lot of opportunities to get into a game. In the American League, sometimes you can sit out for a week and not play."

For his 12 big league seasons, Santiago has been entirely in the AL -- 10 years with the Tigers and two with the Mariners. Reds manager Bryan Price was Seattle's pitching coach in 2004 when Santiago was traded from Detroit for Carlos Guillen, and likes the idea of having him around in Cincinnati.

"We always knew he could defend. But he's an excellent situational player," Price said. "Offensively, he can put the ball in play. He's a hit-and-run guy. He's an outstanding bunter. He can bunt for a hit. He's smart on the bases. And he's an outstanding defender at second, third and short. That's where we feel organizationally that we needed some experience and support."

"That's the thing I work really hard on -- situational hitting. I can help the team different ways," Santiago said.

The Reds could wind up starting the season without backup corner infielder Jack Hannahan, who is still rehabbing from offseason right shoulder surgery and has yet to get into a game. That could improve Santiago's chances of making the team. He also would be a true shortstop backup for Zack Cozart.

If Santiago does make the Reds' 25-man roster out of camp, he could earn $1.1 million this season. His spot would fill a role occupied last season by Edgar Renteria, Wilson Valdez and Cesar Izturis. All three struggled offensively.

Santiago, who returned to Detroit in 2006, batted .224/.288/.298 in 80 games there last season and is .243/.311/.330 lifetime. The 34-year-old played 33 games at second base, 27 games at shortstop and 27 at third base in 2013.

"Last year when Miguel [Cabrera] went down, I was playing a lot of third base," Santiago said. "When Jhonny [Peralta] was suspended, I played shortstop. When Omar [Infante] got hurt, I was playing second, too. I filled in for those guys. I have to be prepared for any situation and any moment. I never know when I might get into the game at those positions. That's why I work hard every day at each one."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
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