Hidden gem: Danny Santana shines in debut to lead Red Sox to 11-3 win over Phillies

Danny Santana was so calm, his swing so easy on a go-ahead home run that it makes you wonder how the Red Sox were able to sign him on a minor-league deal.

In his debut with the Red Sox on Friday night, he looked like he’s been in the big leagues all year.

Santana made some fine plays at first base and connected on a two-out, go-ahead homer in the fifth inning as the Sox trampled the Phillies, 11-3, at Citizens Bank Park.

“You can see quality at-bats, he controls the strike zone,” manager Alex Cora said. “He actually said he was a little bit nervous before his first at-bat. I said, ‘Well, you’re only human. That’s part of what we do and if you don’t feel nervous at this level there’s something wrong with you. We all feel that way on a daily basis so put a good swing on it.’

“That’s what he brings. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark. We’re very excited that he’s with us and I know he’s going to help us.”

The 30-year-old was a 20-20 guy just two seasons ago with the Texas Rangers, when he hit .283 with 28 homers, 21 steals and an .851 OPS. But he suffered an elbow injury and needed surgery that held him to just 15 games last year.

On March 7, right in the middle of spring training, the Red Sox signed him on a minor-league contract knowing that he wouldn’t be ready for the season. Santana said he chose the Red Sox because he thought he’d get an opportunity; they were thin on position player depth and it was clear they’d need him at some point.

After eight games in the minors in which he hit .433, Santana was called up to the big leagues and was inserted into the leadoff spot while playing first base for Cora’s club.

In the fourth inning, Santana caught a liner off the bat of Alec Bohm and doubled off Rhys Hoskins at first.

The next inning, with the score tied, 2-2, and two outs, Santana got a 1-2 curveball from Aaron Nola, one of the best starters in the National League, and deposited it in the right-field seats.

Nola hung the pitch and Santana looked like he was waiting for it. His swing was so easy that NESN color guys Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley commented on how simple he made it look while turning on the pitch to his pull-side without any stride; he just used his arms.

Asked if Santana would continue to bat leadoff, Cora said, “We’ll see, we’ll mix it up. I do believe speed is good up there, but at the same time balance helps and a switch hitter down in the lineup might help, too, hitting behind Christian (Vazquez), right around there. So we’ll keep playing with the lineup. We’ve been doing it the whole season, so why change now?”

Santana also made a handful of nice stretches, including one to help Xander Bogaerts finish a beautiful play to his right.

Overall it was an incredible debut by a player who hadn’t seen big-league action since Aug. 26 of last year.

“He can hit, man,” said starter Martin Perez. “He knows how to hit. He knows how to play baseball and he did great things before with Texas. He knows how to play baseball, man. He’s just got to go out there and swing the bat. That’s it.”

Bobby Dalbec remains entrenched at first base, but there’s an opening at second and there could be some playing time to be had in the outfield as Alex Verdugo continues to battle hamstring issues.

After Santana homered to put the Sox up 3-2 in the fifth, Verdugo singled, J.D. Martinez walked and Bogaerts roped a single to left that scored two more runs thanks to a sloppy relay by the Phillies. Bohm cut off the throw from left and had Martinez dead between second and third, but Jean Segura fell down trying to catch the ball at second and Martinez raced home.

The Sox added three more runs in the ninth inning, again with two outs.

It continued the trend of the Red Sox scoring runs with two outs, which they’ve done in bunches this week. Overall on the year, they’ve had just a 112 OPS-plus with two outs compared to a 123 OPS-plus with no outs and 121 OPS-plus with one out.

Verdugo exited the game in the sixth due to hamstring tightness. Cora said he probably won’t play on Saturday.

A few more takeaways:

1. Rafael Devers added some two-out insurance runs in the seventh inning, when he worked the count full and got a high changeup that he didn’t miss. Using almost exclusively his wrists, he yanked the outside pitch to his pull-side and put it in the right-field seats for a two-run shot. It was his 12th of the year, tying him with Martinez for the team lead. Shohei Ohtani leads the American League with 14 home runs.
2. Bogaerts had an excellent game on defense, making several plays to both sides of him and even one spectacular play while on the right side of the infield in the shift. He continues to outpace other big league shortstops with 2.5 WAR on the season, which is second overall to only Blue Jays’ first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (2.6 WAR).
3. Perez pitched a strong game, striking out seven over six innings while allowing three runs. He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in six consecutive starts and has a 3.55 ERA overall.

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