Finally healthy, Santana brings speed to Sox

May 21st, 2021

was back in the Major Leagues on Friday night, and manager Alex Cora put him right into the middle of the action, assigning the veteran utility infielder/outfielder to the leadoff spot while starting him at first base for the opener of a three-game series in Philadelphia.

The switch-hitter could be an impact rover for the Red Sox, given his combination of power and speed. And the latter trait, Cora added, is one Boston doesn’t possess much of as a team.

“I think the thing that he brings that we don’t have is speed,” said Cora. “We run the bases well, we pick and choose where we want to go and we’ve been pretty effective, but he can run. I think that’s a dimension that will add something to the equation. Offensively, we should be better. It creates more balance, it gives us more alternatives and we’re very happy he’s with us.”

A 30-year-old from the Dominican Republic, Santana had a breakout year for the Rangers in 2019, slashing .283/.324/.534 with 28 homers and 81 RBIs in 511 at-bats.

Last year, he hit .145 in 15 games before being shut down so he could have an extensive surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow. The recovery time for the surgery done in September was expected to be seven to eight months.

To make room for Santana on the roster, the Red Sox designated righty reliever Austin Brice for assignment. In 12 games this season, Brice had a 6.94 ERA.

The move now allows Cora to go with a more traditional allotment of 13 position players and 13 pitchers.

Boston signed Santana to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training on March 7. He was progressing well until suffering a severe right foot infection that required hospitalization less than 10 days after that.

Santana was ready for action once the Minor League season started. He played three games for High-A Greenville and five for Triple-A Worcester, going 9-for-20 with two doubles, two homers and four RBIs for the WooSox.

“I feel really good right now. So, I know I can run a little bit. I can do a lot of things when I am healthy,” said Santana.

After the frustration of last year and the monotonous rehab that followed, Santana is thrilled to be back in the Major Leagues -- and with a first-place team.

“It was a lot of work,” Santana said. “Sometimes I was sitting home frustrated because I couldn’t play. I watched my teammates and the whole team was playing and I am just sitting at home, watching TV and seeing them play. It made me feel bad. Now I’m really happy. I got a new opportunity and I’m going to enjoy it.”

Though Santana can play all over the diamond, Cora said he will be used mostly at first base, second base and center field.

Arroyo could re-join club soon
While the Red Sox added Santana on Friday, they could have another reinforcement by early next week.

, who was exceptional on defense at second base before going on the injured list on May 9 with a left wrist contusion, is starting a rehab assignment with Worcester this weekend.

“I don't want to get ahead of myself, but probably he'll play the whole weekend there -- you know, the three games -- and then we'll make a decision,” said Cora. “Let's see how he comes out tonight. You know even if he feels great, that's awesome, but I think a few games to get at-bats is always useful. The fact that he's playing, he tells you where he's at right now.”

Will Thursday’s comeback be a ‘circle game’?
Thanks to J.D. Martinez, the flight from Dunedin, Fla., to Philadelphia went by a lot faster. The star slugger improved the spirits of his team by belting a go-ahead, two-run homer to right-center when the Red Sox were one out from defeat on Thursday.

Perhaps there will be a carry-over effect.

“Like my friend Tim Kurkjian says on ESPN, those are circle games,” said Cora. “Let's see what happens after that so hopefully we can keep playing good baseball and in a month-and-a-half, we look back at that game and say, you know what, that was a game-changer. One thing that I also like about the group is that today, they're not caught up on what happened yesterday. They're getting ready for the Phillies, which is a mark of a good team. You’ve got to turn the page.”