The Texas Rangers were 6-7 on April 14, the day Danny Santana made his first appearance of the season.
A roster replacement for the injured Rougned Odor, Santana was a pinch hitter with one out in the eighth inning, trailing by two. He tripled in two runs and scored the game-winner on a two-out bunt hit by Delino DeShields.
That was the first of the 26 victories the Rangers had collected with Santana playing in a game, entering Thursday. They were 30-24 since he joined them and 19-14 when he started, including victories in the first two games of their four-game series against the Boston Red Sox.
He didn’t start Wednesday, getting only an eighth-inning at-bat as a pinch hitter, in a walk-off loss.
Draw any conclusions you want, but the fact is that Santana has made the Rangers better after they invested time in spring training to make him better.
“He’s one of my favorite players,” manager Chris Woodward said. “It’s amazing what he’s done. It’s pretty remarkable. It’s not surprising not that I’ve gotten to know him and see him every day. But, shoot, we wouldn’t be where we’re at without him.”
Santana returned to the lineup Thursday, in what was a 7-6 loss to the Red Sox, playing right field for the first time this season after Woodward decided to give Nomar Mazara a day off. It was the sixth position for Santana this year.
He also has plus-speed and is a switch hitter who, with the Rangers’ help, has made more contact, reached base more and hit for more power than at any time since his rookie season in 2013 with the Minnesota Twins.
The more the Rangers watched him during spring training, the more they were able to identify a few tweaks he needed to make to his swing. He relied on his hands too much, and that led to him striking out too often.
“We saw some flaws that were preventing him from having success,” Woodward said. “His go-to when he struggled was, ‘Go with your hands.’ That’s not the correct sequencing of the swing. It actually is the worst thing you can do.”
Santana has good hands, Woodward said, and the longer he can delay them and use his lower half to decide whether to swing or not, gives him better strike-zone recognition and keeps him from chasing bad pitches.
He has been able to work himself into hitters’ counts and is taking advantage. Quieting the hands, which he referred to as “the dance,” has allowed his timing to improve.
“I have worked a lot,” said Santana, who came to spring camp on a minor-league deal. “It has helped me a lot, and I want to stay like that the whole season. That’s the only change. I’m on time more. It’s more quiet. It’s a little more direct swing to the ball.”
He entered the finale at soggy, chilly Fenway Park batting .297 in 148 at-bats, the most he has had in an MLB season since 2017. He had drastic splits, batting .336 against righties and only .171 against lefties.
Santana, though, has made a case that he would be a better option at second base should Odor’s struggles linger and is a capable center fielder who could man the position until Joey Gallo is ready to return from the injured list.
At the very least, Santana won’t be heading back to the minors. He has become indispensable.
“I feel like every day he impacts the game somehow, and that’s pretty rare,” Woodward said. “But he seems to have done that.”