By Noah Trister
AP Baseball Writer
As a 210-pound power hitter, Carlos Santana doesn’t exactly fit the prototype of the traditional leadoff man.
But Cleveland manager Terry Francona has become comfortable topping the lineup with his slugging designated hitter.
“Speed’s always good, but at the top of the order, you want guys on base,” Francona said. “You don’t want to clog the bases, but you want guys on base for your best hitters. That seems like common sense.”
Nearly half of Santana’s 277 at-bats this season have come in the leadoff spot, and with a career on-base percentage of .362, he can help provide RBI opportunities for Cleveland’s other top hitters in the middle of the order. Santana doesn’t hit for a high average, but he draws lots of walks, and he even stole a career-high 11 bases last year.
This season, he’s tied for the team lead in home runs with 16. Cleveland has won nine straight and leads the AL Central by five games.
Santana isn’t the only power hitter who has hit leadoff this year. Toronto’s Jose Bautista and Houston’s George Springer have as well. Matt Carpenter of St. Louis doesn’t have a single stolen base this season, and he’s hit first almost exclusively.
The ability to get on base can trump speed when a manager chooses a leadoff hitter. In fact, there’s a case to be made for putting your faster players at the bottom of the order, where hitters are generally weaker and a team might need to be creative to manufacture runs.
“If you have some speed at the bottom, you can be a little more daring,” Francona said.
Rajai Davis, Cleveland’s leader in stolen bases, has hit ninth quite a bit when he hasn’t been batting leadoff.
Francona says when putting Santana at leadoff, his big issue was whether the middle of the order would be good enough without his bat in it. Mike Napoli, who also has 16 homers, has helped alleviate some of those concerns.
Here are a few other developments from around baseball:
STEADYING THE SHIP?
Pittsburgh was 5-17 in June before taking three straight games against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Pirates beat Clayton Kershaw on Sunday night.
The Pirates will hope the worst is behind them. They trail the first-place Chicago Cubs by 12 games in the NL Central, and they’re four behind the New York Mets and Miami Marlins, who lead the race for the wild cards.
The Pirates did have good company toward the end of their rough stretch. NL East-leading Washington lost seven in a row, a slide that didn’t end until Sunday. The Cubs have lost six of seven, but they still lead the NL Central by nine games over St. Louis.
Straight from the no-closer-is-safe files: Trevor Rosenthal of the Cardinals has been moved out of the closing role for the time being. Manager Mike Matheny said St. Louis will use a combination of Jonathan Broxton, Seunghwan Oh and Kevin Siegrist in the ninth inning.
Oh has the best numbers of that group this season, but Siegrist is the only St. Louis pitcher besides Rosenthal with a save in 2016.
Rosenthal had 93 saves over 2014 and 2015. This year he’s posted a 5.63 ERA. Closers can be maddening.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Minnesota’s Kurt Suzuki had a homer, two doubles and a single, driving in six runs as the Twins won a 14-10 slugfest over Philadelphia on Tuesday.