CLEVELAND -- Carlos Santana opened this season as the cleanup hitter and primary third baseman for the Indians. Following a prolonged slump, Santana has hit his way back into the middle of Cleveland's order. But his place on the field has changed.
Indians manager Terry Francona, who dropped Santana lower in the lineup midway through May, has enjoyed being able to move the hot-hitting corner infielder back to the heart of the order. Lately, though, Francona has scrapped plans for using Santana at third, putting him at first base on a regular basis.
"To be honest with you, we're trying to put the best team out there that we can," Francona said prior to Sunday's game. "Lonnie [Chisenhall], I don't think there's anybody that would argue, deserves to be playing third base. So, we don't do the positions necessarily by what guys want to do. Lonnie has done a heck of a job.
"Carlos worked really hard [at third base], but what's kind of cool is that I think all the work he put in at third, I think it's made him a better first baseman. He's more active. He's more agile. Again, we'll see where it goes."
Over the past 19 games, Santana has started at first base 16 times, served as the designated hitter twice and caught once. That stretch covers the period since Santana last manned third base on May 22. Prior to the recent period away from the hot corner, Santana started at third base in 26 of his first 47 games this season. He played first just twice during that span.
Cleveland has not had to use Santana as the backup catcher, with George Kottaras now filling that role on the roster. Chisenhall (batting .363, entering Sunday) has grabbed the starting job at third and Nick Swisher has worked mostly as a DH since coming off the disabled list on June 12.
"I know we have an obligation to write the lineup out," Francona said, "but [players] kind of do by the way they play."
Along those lines, Francona has been thrilled with Santana's recent work in the batter's box. Entering Sunday, the switch-hitter was hitting just .201 through 65 games, but he was batting .338 with six home runs, 16 RBIs and 16 walks in his past 19 games. Santana headed into Sunday's action ranked second in the American League with a 1.114 OPS in June.
"For us to probably be the offensive team that we aspire to be," Francona said, "I think he needs to be [in the middle of the lineup]. You can try to lessen the burden on those guys when they're struggling -- I think sometimes you need to. But, when [push comes to shove], we need to have Carlos probably in the middle."
Murphy looking to bust out of skid at the plate
CLEVELAND -- David Murphy was able to breathe a little easier in the ninth inning on Saturday, when the Indians right fielder singled up the middle against Tigers closer Joe Nathan. That base hit ended the worst offensive drought of Murphy's career.
Murphy was in an 0-for-25 funk in the batter's box prior to the single.
"I've definitely shown in the past that I can be pretty bad when I'm bad," Murphy said with a laugh on Sunday morning. "Every player is going through rough stretches over the course of a season. I wasn't panicking by any means. But it's definitely frustrating and annoying when you go so long without really having any quality at-bats."
Entering Sunday, Murphy was hitting .261 with five home runs, 15 doubles and 38 RBIs through 70 games for Cleveland this season. He has proven to be one of the Tribe's best hitters with runners in scoring position (.333 average overall and .433 with less than two outs and RISP). But that did not stop him from slipping into the recent slump.
Even with that ninth-inning hit off Nathan, the 32-year-old Murphy headed into Sunday's game against Detroit mired in a 2-for-31 skid that covers nine games. Prior to that stretch, the left-handed-hitting right fielder posted a .340 average over his previous 14 games.
Indians manager Terry Francona is not too worried about the veteran hitter.
"It's unbelievable when he gets to two strikes," Francona said, "how he can waste pitches or get the head of the bat [to the ball]. Murphy understands. It's the ebb and flow. He'll got hot. Nobody wants to go through [a slump], but hitters do. He's been through it before. He'll be fine. He'll get his hits."
Murphy agreed that the recent stretch was one of the inevitable skids that arises throughout baseball's long season.
"I've just been battling," he said. "You go through stages during the year where you're comfortable and stages where you're uncomfortable. I just didn't really feel good in the box over the last week. Things sped up on me a little bit, and you just kind of stop trusting it a little bit."
Quote to note
"When nobody's on, you're not going to walk Victor. And he's hit a couple of home runs. We've gotten nicked up going through that middle quite a few times in this series."
--Indians manager Terry Francona, on facing Victor Martinez and the heart of Detroit's lineup during the current series
• Indians left fielder Michael Brantley went 0-for-5 on Saturday in his first game back in the starting lineup after dealing with a minor concussion. While the early results were not strong, Francona was still encouraged by Brantley's return.
"There were no repercussions," Francona said. "He felt fine. You can't guarantee a guy's going to be locked in, especially against [Tigers starter Justin] Verlander. But he hit one ball to right-center that he just missed, and his presence in the order helps all the time."
• Francona indicated that Tribe outfielder Nyjer Morgan (on the 60-day disabled list with a right knee injury) continues to do pool workouts at the team's complex in Arizona. Morgan, who has also begun light throwing and hitting activities, is scheduled to be re-evaluated by the Tribe's medical staff on Monday in Cleveland.
• After Chisenhall's breakout five-hit, three-homer, nine-RBI performance against the Rangers on June 9, the nickname "Lonnie Baseball" took off via social media and began appearing on shirts. Chisenhall likes the moniker and his agency recently trademarked the nickname.