Both men are hoping Santana’s hot streak continues Monday night at the All-Star Game Home Run Derby at Progressive Field. This is Santana’s first All-Star appearance and he plans to do and see as much as he can.
Not only was Santana voted into the AL’s starting lineup by the fans, he also was asked to participate in Monday night’s Home Run Derby at his home park. He couldn’t say yes fast enough.
The next thing he did was ask Rodriguez, Indians assistant hitting coach, to pitch to him in the derby. Unlike a real game where the pitcher and hitter work against each other, they must work together in the Home Run Derby. The pitcher is just as important as the guy swinging the bat.
Finally, for the first time the derby winner will receive $1 million in prize money. Santana, who has 19 homers, meets Mets rookie Pete Alonso in the first round. Alonso has hit 28 homers so far in the first half.
“I’m very comfortable with him,” said Santana, when asked about Rodriguez. “He was a little surprised when I asked him, but he’s happy to do it. I’m proud to do this with him. He’s been workjng with me all year.”
Rodriguez talked about Santana on Thursday morning at Kauffman Stadium. He pulled aside the netting in the visitor’s batting cage behind the dugout and said, “Step into my office. This is where I feel most comfortable.”
He has been throwing batting practice to Santana all year. Not so much on the field, but almost every day in batting cages around the AL.
“I have worked with him all year, so it’s easy to know what he likes,” said Rodriguez. “I think he likes it anywhere. When he’s in that mode of lifting the ball, you just have to bring it a little bit up in the zone.
"Right now, we’re just focusing on staying up the middle of the field, because we don’t want to distract his swing. He wants to finish strong and we still have a couple more games. A Home Run Derby is not the main thing right now.”
Rodriguez said he’s pitched in home run derbies in Puerto Rico and in winter ball, but never at the MLB All-Stars Game. He was a member of Boston’s coaching staff that went to the 2014 All-Star Game at Target Field.
“I threw batting practice to a special group in the 2014 All-Star Game: Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera," said Rodriguez. “You throw to that group and I think you feel a little nervous because of who they are. But it was fun, more than anything.”
Rodriguez said the switch-hitting Santana will hit left-handed Monday night. He’s hit 15 of his homers from the left side of the plate, and Progressive Field favors left-handed hitters because they can pull the ball to right field and avoid the 19-foot wall that stretches from the left-field foul line to left center field.
“It’s gotta be left-handed,” Rodriguez said. “Right field is a good place for him. In Progressive Field, the ball carries better to the right side than to the left side. But he has the power to hit it everywhere. But I think from the left side, he feels more comfortable.”
Rodriguez said all Santana has to do is relax.
“I think it’s a matter of not trying to do too much," he said. “Go there and take BP (batting practice) because when he takes BP, he hits ball after ball after ball out. It’s an easy thing. I think when you try to do too much, that’s when you get tired.”
Usually the winner of the Home Run Derby takes good care of his pitcher. Asked what kind of cut he would get if Santana wins, Rodriguez laughed and said, “Well, I think I’m gonna get more than half a million. No, I think it’s just that I’m being part of all the good things that have happened to him. It’s a pleasure to me. That’s all I want, for him to have a good time and to do well.”
Rodriguez spent 23 seasons with the Red Sox before joining the Indians for the 2018 season. Boston’s David Ortiz introduced Santana to Rodriguez.
“David was my guy in Boston so I talked to Santana a lot,” Rodriguez said. “David is good friends with him. David always told me, ‘This guy is better than what he’s shown. He should be an All-Star.’ ”
When the Indians reacquired Santana in December, he went to spring training with the goal of becoming a better all around hitter. He’s always been a decent power hitter with a good balance between walks and strikeouts. But he hit .229 last year with the Phillies and entered the season as a career .247 hitter.
There was one other thing Santana wanted to do this year: Make the All-Star team, especially with the game being in Cleveland.
It turned out that his two goals became one. By concentrating on using the whole field, Santana just passed the midpoint of what could be a career year. He’s hitting .302 (92-for-305) with 16 doubles, 19 homers and 52 RBI. He’s played in 85 of the Tribe’s 86 games and posted a .968 OPS.
As for the All-Star Game, not only is he going to play in it, he’s also going to start. And don’t forget the Home Run Derby.