ARLINGTON — Cleaning is typically a chore dreaded by many kids and adults alike. But Dennis Santana cleans up messes often, and he loves it. A middle reliever for the Rangers, Santana has carved out an unfamiliar role: cleaning up others’ messes.
Though he has the ability to go one-plus innings, Santana’s niche has been entering games with runners on base and a lead on the line, then finding ways to stop the bleeding and getting out of the situation unscathed.
The most recent example came during last Sunday’s doubleheader against the Yankees. With Texas leading, 4-2, in the bottom of the seventh, Santana entered with the bases loaded and one out to face one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball in Aaron Judge. Santana forced a simple flyout and Texas rolled to a win.
“I love it,” Santana said of the role. “I like being under pressure a lot. I work better like that, so I love it. I think I just work better with men on base. When I have men on base, I know that I can’t mess up. I’ve got to take care of my teammates. I take that pretty seriously. … Being in Yankee Stadium, facing those guys, I feel like I can’t miss. I have to execute with everything that I do.”
Santana rarely enters the game during a clean inning, but somehow he’s better that way. This season, through 11 appearances (nine innings), he’s posted a 2.00 ERA.
Manager Chris Woodward said the staff recognized Santana’s ability to hold games with runners on last season, but didn’t really utilize him in this way until recently.
“He’s not only had success, but he actually thrives and likes it,” Woodward said. “He’s talked openly about that. I think, obviously, we’re not going to keep doing that where he’s getting one out every single time. He’s got to, obviously, compile some innings. But right now there’s no better guy to turn to, honestly, in those situations. He just has a knack for it. He comes out and there’s almost a smile on his face when he gets out to the mound.”