Dodgers: Dennis Santana’s disappearance and attempt to be found
A few injuries in the big leagues, a phone call and a plane ticket changed Dennis Santana’s life. The 22-year-old right-handed pitcher from San Pedro de Macoris, a small town in the Dominican Republic, flew from Oklahoma City to Denver to make his major league debut in front of thousands at Coors Field and millions in their living rooms.
The journey from the minors to the majors was well documented. Posts on the social media pages of both Dennis and his father kept the public well informed and keyed them into the family’s excitement for the day they had all been longing for. Santana, a shortstop turned pitcher from a small Dominican city, had made it to the big leagues.
Santana’s debut was the cherry on top of a storybook season that saw the young righty rise from Double-A to the majors just one season after making his High-A debut. His numbers in the upper minors in 2018 were too good not to call up. His arm was being wasted against players that were no match for the hard-throwing righty, rising quickly through the Dodger prospect ranks.
Santana had been 2018’s story for the Dodgers and he was rewarded and cursed with a debut in the hitter-friendly confines of Colorado.
Scott Alexander started the game as the opener. The Dodgers, who went into the June 1st division matchup four games under .500, had to go with a bullpen game and Santana was brought up to cover the majority of the frames.
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Alexander pitched, Santana warmed in the bullpen and 1.1 innings into the game, he officially entered the field as a big leaguer.
The game went as one would assume it did in Colorado. Santana threw 3.2 innings and gave up six hits and five runs, all of them earned. He accompanied the runs and hits with four strikeouts and a walk, collected his first big league hit and was rewarded with the win when all things were said an done. It was a good game, pitched well given the atmosphere and the Dodgers, not thrilled with Santana’s 12.27 ERA after his first outing, had nothing to complain about.
“You can never script out a ballgame in this ballpark,” Dave Roberts said after the game.
The Dodgers’ plan was to keep Santana on the roster following the appearance. The team was being decimated by injuries and the new guy had struck out 65 batters in 49.2 innings to the tune of a 2.54 ERA between Double and Triple-A. It warranted an extended crack at the big leagues but no fairytale would complete without a villain.
At first, the pain was reportedly “mild”. The Dodgers were cautious with it and placed Santana on the 10-day injured list but 10 days turned to weeks, the 10-day IL turned to 60 and he did not pitch again in 2018 due to an injured shoulder.
Injuries certainly happen. They’re common. Players get over them and, eventually, they return to full strength and resume their roles on a roster. But, for the Dodgers, an injury to a player on the fringe of the roster often equates to demotion due to the high volume of replacement options in the system.
Santana fell victim the roster crunch out of spring training this year. He was a valuable asset with no place on the team not because he wasn’t capable but because there was just no room. The Dodgers optioned Santana directly out of camp and he would join the Triple-A rotation to be available if the Dodgers needed to make a roster move.
The Dodgers did make that move and the now 23-year-old played in three games on the big league roster but all three were rather lack-luster. A 7.20 ERA in five innings this year deserved only a demotion and Triple-A has been where Santana has spent the majority of his time. It has not gone well.
Just 19.2 innings shy of 100 on the season with the Dodgers highest affiliate have yielded a 7.73 ERA and strikeout numbers that served as an ugly reminder that Santana’s pitches weren’t fooling batters the way they used to– Santana’s 11.8 K/9 rate from the previous season was down 2.2 points to just 9.6.
Santana’s stuff stopped playing this year and whether that was all due to the residual effects of his shoulder injury or just simply some serious regression, it got to the point where the Dodgers needed to make a change to stop the struggling. The picked bullpen.
Santana has been officially moved to the pen in Triple-A and has made two appearances as a reliever. Both outings were scoreless innings which together yielded two innings, three strikeouts, a walk and no hits.
The sample size is too small to read into yet but the idea of moving Santana, a struggling pitcher walking twice the number of batters per nine innings than he usually does, to the bullpen is a safe move that could pay off. The Dodgers starting rotation is a full house for the foreseeable future and Santana does not really factor into that mix struggling or not. The Dodgers can build a solid reliever in Santana and utilize his swing and miss ability there with a larger margin for walks and allowed base runners if the strikeouts climb back to their normal level.
Santana’s story is far from over at his age and with his raw talent. The Dodgers need to just tap back into what made Santana so good just a year ago and concentrate it to shorter, bullpen length outings. For the former shortstop, the big leagues is still the goal it might just be from the bullpen.