Adalberto Santos just needed a chance to play, and since getting one, he's been nothing short of sensational for the Curve.
Santos wrapped up a tremendous week Sunday with a game-winning three-run double in the eighth inning against Richmond. His hit broke open a tie game and lifted the Curve to an 8-3 win before 3,326 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Santos went 2-for-4 with the three RBIs, and for the week he batted .545 (12-for-22) with seven RBIs and four doubles. He wasn't even an everyday player until a week ago, and now he's got a strong shot at earning the Eastern League's Player of the Week award today.
Santos' game-winning effort Sunday followed a fantastic game Friday in which he went 4-for-5 with four RBIs.
"He's a gamer, he's going to show up every day," manager P.J. Forbes said.
Teammate Robbie Grossman, who played with Santos last year at high-A Bradenton, also bestowed the "gamer" label on him. In many ways, that's about as good of a compliment as a player can get.
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: SS Brock Holt left Sunday's game with a tailbone injury in the seventh inning and will see a doctor today to determine the severity. Holt scored on a bang-bang play at the plate in the sixth and limped into the dugout. He stayed in the game and drew a walk in the seventh, but after limping to first base he was pulled. Manager P.J. Forbes said he hopes it's nothing more serious than a bruise.
SAFE AT FIRST: The Curve employed a radical outfield shift at times Sunday, something very rare in the minor leagues. For the entire ninth inning, RF Adalberto Santos was swung way over to the left and more shallow than usual, looking more like a softball rover than a typical right fielder and leaving virtually all of right field empty. The shift worked against two right-handers and even a left-hander on the game's final out.
STEALING SECOND: "We're trying a little something different," manager P.J. Forbes said of the shift. "[Coach and Indiana, Pa., native] Mike Ryan is taking over our outfielders and positioning of our outfielders. We're going off pitchers, going off of what the tendencies they've showed the first five, six games, and we're going to try this. [Ryan] guaranteed us the best outfield in the Eastern League when it's all said and done, and they showed it today." LF Quincy Latimore and CF Robbie Grossman both made superb catches at the wall during the 8-3 win.
ROUNDING THIRD: A big part of the Curve's five-run eighth inning was a one-out sacrifice bunt by relief pitcher Duke Welker. It was Welker's first professional at-bat, and the left-handed hitter dropped a perfect bunt down the first base line. Forbes is stressing bunting this season, and Welker coming through like he did in his first pro AB should show the everyday hitters it's not that difficult.
HEADING HOME: Welker (1-0) also earned the win in relief, while Daryl Maday (0-1) took the loss for Richmond.
- Cory Giger
"Baseball player," Grossman said when asked to describe it. "Just not a power hitter or average hitter. You can do everything with a baseball player.
"Those are the kind of guys you want on your team. He goes out there and plays hard, and when he gets his opportunity, he makes the most of it."
Santos' opportunity has come after a wrist injury to right fielder Andrew Lambo, who's on the disabled list. Santos played in only four of the first 10 games and batted just 10 times (with three hits), but he remained patient until his opportunity presented itself.
"I wanted to just stay ready," Santos said. "Don't take your [batting] cage work or your BP lightly. Just treat it like a game, treat it like every day you're going to play because you never know when you're going to go in."
This is no fluke what Santos has done, either. The guy can hit. He batted .314 last season for Bradenton to finish fourth in the Florida State League.
Santos opened the season as a reserve outfielder, but Forbes said hitting coach Ryan Long assured him "that by game 14 he would be a fixture in our lineup and be productive."
Santos, 24, is a bit older for a Double-A rookie, but he has done nothing but hit since getting selected in the 22nd round of the 2010 draft out of Oregon State. He batted .319 for the State College Spikes in 2010, then the Bucs let him skip low-A and he had the strong season for Bradenton last year.
He opened this season as a backup outfielder, but so far he's proving he could be an everyday player at the Double-A level.
"Yes he is," Forbes said. "So we have an interesting dilemma going forward [when Lambo returns], which is awesome. That's all you can hope for. Competition, that's the greatest motivator in this game."
Santos appreciated hearing Forbes and Grossman bestow the "gamer" label on him.
"It means they trust me," he said. "They know that I'm going to go out there, give it 100 percent whether I'm doing good or bad. I like to win. I try to do my best to help my team out to win as much as I can.
"To get compliments from them and saying I'm a gamer really means a lot. I know P.J., when he played, he was a bulldog himself. For him to say that means a lot."
Santos came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth against Richmond reliever Daryl Maday. He worked a 2-0 count, laid off a pitcher's pitch for strike one and eventually got in a full-count situation.
"When I got to 3-2, just pretty much sitting everything," he said of his approach. "Just seeing it out of his hand, just recognize it. I saw a slider, just stayed with it and poked it out into the outfield."
The hit went opposite field down the line in right and was fair by a matter of inches, scoring all three runners for a 6-3 lead. The Curve then added two more runs for insurance.
Santos was named after his father, a native Puerto Rican, but was born in the Bronx. He speaks perfect English, something that his unusual first name may not suggest, although he has fun with it.
"On the field sometimes, when I'm playing infield, a lot of Spanish guys are like, 'hola,' and just to fool around with them, I say, 'What's up?' just to confuse them a little bit," Santos, who does speak some Spanish, said with a laugh.
He's proud to carry his father's first name - he is Adalberto Santos Jr., and the first name is pronounced just liked it's spelled - but in baseball, everyone has some kind of nickname.
"Everybody wants to give me nicknames like Bert and Berty and Al, and I'm like, 'no,'" he said with a smile.
No matter how anyone pronounces his name, the most important thing for Santos is, if he keeps hitting like he has, he will be called a starter for the Curve instead of a reserve.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: RF Adalberto Santos went 2-for-4 with three RBIs.
Key play: Santos' three-run double in the eighth snapped a 3-3 tie.
Key stat: Santos batted .545 (12-for-22) for the week.
SUBHD: How they scored
Top 1st: Brown walked, scored on Mayora single (0-1).
Top 3rd: Hodges walked, scored on Adrianza single (0-2); Perez walked, scored on Poreda error (0-3).
Bottom 6th: Holt singled, scored on Curry double (1-3); Santos walked, scored on Cabrera groundout (2-3); Latimore double scored Curry (3-3).
Bottom 8th: Brown singled, Grossman intentionally walked, Gonzalez infield single, all three scored on Santos double (6-3); Curry single scored Santos (7-3); Cabrera single scored Curry (8-3).