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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sanitago will play next two days to 'see what he's got'


DETROIT — It may be something that’s lost in translation, and not from Spanish to English.

After passing on it the winter before last, and having it cost him dearly, Ramon Santiago — at the urging of the Detroit Tigers organization — was back at his familiar spot in winter ball, hoping to erase the memories of a poor 2012 season.

He says it’s helped so far.

Yeah, yeah. I just feel like more in shape. I feel more energetic, my swing feels better,” the 33-year-old reserve infielder said Saturday. “I feel the difference, already.”

Problem is, that hasn’t necessarily translated into something anyone else can tell.

His manager hasn’t seen the effects yet.

“I haven’t really seen the effects of that so far. That’s why he’s playing the next couple of days. To see what he’s got,” said manager Jim Leyland, who penciled Santiago into the lineup Saturday at second base, and intends to play him at shortstop on Sunday.

“He’s a big part of our team, and has been in the past. Did not have a good year last year. Started out OK in winter ball, but did not finish real good in winter ball. So we’ll just have to wait and see how that plays out.”

This winter, Santiago hit .325 for the Leones del Escogido in the Liga de Beisbol Dominicano, playing in 21 games.

In part because of a calf injury at the start of the spring, that didn’t necessarily translate onto the field in spring training. He hit .250 with two extra-base hits in 16 spring games, but won the final spot on the bench over Danny Worth — in part because of his $2.1 million salary, and in part because Worth still had an option year.

The Tigers need to know what they have in Santiago.

Is the .206 average he posted in 2012 merely a product of missing winter ball for one season, or is it a factor of declining skills for an aging player.

Santiago thinks it’s the latter, naturally.

“When you only get 200 at-bats, maybe 150, it’s hard to be in time with things at the plate. You gotta be ahead. With the extra swings, with the extra plate appearances, you get better. You see more pitches, you get your timing. I think it’s beneficial if bench players play winter ball a lot,” he said of the using the winter to keep sharp, to get at-bats that he might not get during the regular season, as a reserve.

“It’s worked pretty good for me the last couple of years, and last year, I don’t do it, and I don’t do too good that year. ... It was just one of those years.”

It’s not a matter of resting anyone for the Tigers at this point, especially since they’ll have their second off day in eight days on Monday, and have only played a handful of games.

“This is one of those scenarios where we’re not resting anybody. So the people who get excited, ‘After four games, my God, he’s resting people already.’ I’m not resting anybody,” Leyland said.

“I’m utilizing my roster. If you don’t play Santiago, what’s the day you decide to play him? Ten days into the season? Eleven days? Fifteen days? I mean, you have to keep him going a little bit. ... He’s been hitting all spring, and getting at-bats. He got less than other guys, because he was hurt. But you want to get him out there. ...

“When you have off days mixed in with it, that means your regulars get a blow, which you probably don’t need this early, but your so-called extra guys ... they don’t get to play for too long a time. I don’t like them to sit over there too long. I think that goes against what you have a 25-man roster for.”

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