When breaking down the schedule at the beginning of the year, the Indians home series with the Nationals looked to be one of the more unappealing weekend series on the schedule. But the events of the past week have added increased hype and excitement, turning it into one of the more anticipated weekends at Progressive Field.
The highlight of the series was expected to be Stephen Strasburg’s second career start on Sunday, 4 days removed from his scintillating debut. But after a late call up of Carlos Santana Thursday night, last night’s game took on added significance for Tribe fans. Santana joined fellow top prospects – Strasburg, Jason Heyward, & Mike Stanton – to make their debut here in the first half of the 2010 season. Manny Acta wasted no time and put Santana 3rd in the lineup as the starting catcher wearing number 41.
Santana had an instant impact on the game. It was, however, unexpectedly on the defensive side. Jake Westbrook looked shaky at the start of the game and was struggling to find the ideal “arm slot” that analysts and Acta say typically indicates a successful outing for the sinker ball pitcher. Leadoff man Nyjer Morgan reached on an infield single. The speedy Morgan immediately tried to swipe second but was thrown out on a rope from Santana to Valbuena, who tagged Morgan on the leg as he slid by. There was a loud ovation for the new prospect and the game was only a minute old. Throwing out Morgan controlled the damage as Westbrook struggled through an inning in which he started the game with 3 straight hits but only managed to give up 1 run.
The offense was led by Austin Kearns, who, along with Shin-Soo Choo, has held the Tribe’s lineup together this season. Kearns, like Justin Masterson on Wednesday, beat up on his former team. In the first, he hammered a hanging curve ball from Nats starter Luis Atilano into the left field bleachers for a 3 run homer to quickly put the Indians in front. Kearns would hit another homer into the bleachers in the fourth. In his third at bat, he crushed another ball to the wall that was snared by Nyjer Morgan on a great defensive play against the wall. Travis Hafner helped with a laser long ball to right which combined with a double in his first at bat to continue what has been a good few days for the former slugger. He turned on both pitches and drove them hard to right, with his homer almost reaching the area formerly known as “Pronkville.”
But Kearns’ offensive output was all the Indians needed. Westbrook pitched well after his first inning struggles. He went 7.1 IP and gave up only 2 runs, the second coming on a dribbler that went right through the legs of a flat footed Luis Valbuena. Jake battled and was effective against an improved Nats lineup. When he ran out of gas in the 8th, Chris Perez picked him up and induced an inning-ending double play. Perez would finish off the Nats in the 9th for the Tribe’s 3rd straight win.
While Santana’s highlight came in the first minute of the game on defense, he put together some good at bats despite going 0 for 3. He pulled it each time and grounded out to the right side of the infield. He showed good discipline and worked a walk from Atilano after falling behind 1-2. As many were discussing on twitter throughout the game, Santana looked the part and “passed the eyeball test” as soon as he stepped into the box. It will be exciting to see him develop and especially fascinating to see what he can put together against Strasburg on Sunday.
Santana could be out of the lineup tonight as Fausto Carmona, who uses personal catcher Mike Redmond, takes the mound for the Indians. Former Tribe prospect J.D. Martin will be on the mound for the Nationals.
(Photo: Chuck Crow/Plain Dealer)