Braves’ Santana: From ‘Danny who?’ to ‘I like this guy’

 

Danny Santana had a game Sunday that would’ve made his late mother proud.

Making the most of recently increased playing time, the Braves’ Santana went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs in a 13-8 win at Cincinnati, showing skills that made him an up-and-comer with the Twins a few years ago and have lately intrigued Braves manager Brian Snitker.

Danny Santana (left) went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a home run Sunday, and Ender Inciarte (center) had five hits including a homer in the Braves’ 13-8 slugfest win at Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

It was Santana’s fourth career game with at least four hits but his first with three extra-base hits.

The four hits doubled his total in 35 previous at-bats since being traded to the Braves on May 8, and his four starts – at three different positions plus designated hitter — in the past eight games doubled his previous total starts since the trade.

Those two points aren’t mutually exclusive: Santana is thriving with more playing time, totaling four extra-base hits and six RBIs in four starts on the just-completed three-city trip.

He’s done so while playing with the name of his mother, Susana, tattooed in script on the inner part of his right arm. She died in November after a battle with cancer, with Danny skipping winter ball in his native Dominican Republic so he could spend most of his time at her side in her final weeks.

When the Braves got him in a May 8 trade, the general reaction around Braves Country was, Danny who? But for those who watched Sunday’s game, or were up to see his performances in San Francisco and Anaheim earlier in the trip, it’s becoming apparent why the Braves traded for Santana, 26, despite the fact that he only hit .266 with a .300 OBP and .681 OPS in 981 plate appearances spread over parts of four seasons with the Twins.

“The kid has some skills,” Snitker said. “He just hadn’t had a lot of playing time prior to us getting him, and it’s just kind of hard to get him in (games).”

But Snitker found ways on the trip, and now Santana has probably earned himself a bigger role and a chance to keep showing what he can do.

Santana’s slugging percentage (.450) is more than double his OBP (.220), due to the fact that a remarkable seven of his eight hits for the Brave have been extra-base hits (five doubles, one triple, one homer). He’s hitting .200 with a .220 OBP and .670 OPS for the Braves, which is an extremely unusual line, albeit in just 18 games and 40 at-bats. He has just one walk, but also has almost as many extra-base hits as strikeouts (nine).

In his stellar rookie season with the Twins in 2014, when he hit .319 with a .353 OBP and .824 OPS, Santana also had some unusual stats including more than twice as many extra-base hits (41) as walks (19). He was the Twins’ center fielder much of that season and also had more stolen bases (20) than in 101 games and 405 at-bats, which remain far and away his most at-bats.

“I played against him when he was in Minnesota,” said Braves catcher Tyler Flowers, who was with the White Sox when Santana was a Twins rookie, “and he had a real good year where we couldn’t get him out. He was just hammering balls everywhere, plus he’s fast. He’s one of those sneaky-strong kind of guys.”

Danny Santana hit .319 with 41 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases as a Twins rookie in 2014. (AP photo)

Contrast those rookie numbers with these: From the beginning of the following season in 2015 to the time he was traded to the Braves four weeks ago, Santana hit just .215 with a.258 OBP and .310 slugging percentage, and totaled 131 strikeouts in with just 19 walks and 519 at-bats in that span.

After serving as the Twins’ regular center fielder for much of his rookie season,  Santana played primarily shortstop in 2015 – 65 starts at short, three starts in the outfield – and struggled badly at the plate, his average and OBP dropping more than 100 points each to .215 and .241, while his OPS fell nearly 300 points to .532 from that .824 he posted as a rookie. He was a utility player by late season and finished with just 261 at-bats in 91 games.

In 2016 he was switched back to an outfield role and was slowed first by a hamstring strain and then a season-ending shoulder sprain in August, and Santana hit .240 with a .279 OBP and .606 OPS in 75 games (233 at-bats) that season. This season he played sparingly for the Twins, posting a .200 average, .231 OBP and .591 OPS in 25 at-bats before the May 8 trade to Atlanta in exchance for journeyman left-hander Kevin Chapman and cash.

“That’s the thing that he was lacking coming over here, just at-bats and playing time,” Snitker said during the just-completed trip, when he decided to give Santana some starts to see what he could do with three or four at-bats instead of just pinch-hitting. “Over there (in the AL) if you’re not an every-day guy there’s just not a lot for you.”

Santana started three games in a four-day span and intrigued Snitker with his production, beginning May 27 at San Francisco when he started at third base and had a long RBI triple at San Francisco. Two days later the Braves opened a series against the Angels at Anaheim, where Snitker gave him consecutive starts in left field and at DH. He lined a two-run double off the wall in the first of those games.

He didn’t play in the series finale at Anaheim on Wednesday or the series opener two days later Cincinnati, and only got one pinch-hit at-bat in the 12-inning win Saturday. But when Santana returned to the lineup Sunday in right fielder as Nick Markakis got his first full day off of the season. (Markakis has started 51 of 54 games in right field and served as DH in two others.)

What followed was the first four-hit game for Santana since his rookie season in 2014, when he had two four-hit games and a five-hit game.

By the way, Kevin Chapman, the reliever the Braves traded for Santana, has a 5.00 ERA and 1.333 WHIP in nine relief innings at Triple-A Rochester since the trade, after posting a 7.71 ERA and 1.457 WHIP in nine appearances at Triple-A Gwinnett prior to the trade.

Figured I’d close with The Boss, just because. This is one of his more underrated latter-career gems, in my opinion.

“TOUGHER THAN THE REST” by Bruce Springsteen

Well it’s Saturday night
You’re all dressed up in blue
I been watching you awhile
Maybe you been watching me too
So somebody ran out
Left somebody’s heart in a mess
Well if you’re looking for love
Honey I’m tougher than the rest

Some girls they want a handsome Dan
Or some good-lookin’ Joe, on their arm
Some girls like a sweet-talkin’ Romeo
Well ’round here baby
I learned you get what you can get
So if you’re rough enough for love
Honey I’m tougher than the rest

The road is dark
And it’s a thin thin line
But I want you to know I’ll walk it for you any time
Maybe your other boyfriends
Couldn’t pass the test
Well if you’re rough and ready for love
Honey I’m tougher than the rest

Well it ain’t no secret
I’ve been around a time or two
Well I don’t know baby maybe you’ve been around too
Well there’s another dance
All you gotta do is say yes
And if you’re rough and ready for love
Honey I’m tougher than the rest
If you’re rough enough for love
Baby I’m tougher than the rest


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