BOSTON — When Anthony Santander was receiving the Most Valuable Oriole award this time last year, his season-ending oblique injury wasn’t enough to obscure the foundation of hope he’d built for his future.
The switch-hitting, slugging outfielder was entering the prime of his career and proved, over parts of the past two seasons, that he could be an important middle-of-the-order bat once the Orioles turned things around.
But his encore to that award-worthy season never got going. Santander missed a month with an ankle sprain he suffered on April 20, and has only shown flashes of being that player since returning.
Santander doesn’t put that all on his ankle injury, but he’s already looking forward to resting it in the offseason and perhaps making some lifestyle changes that might help him “avoid some injuries, or get back quicker,” he said.
“I’ve been reading about a vegan diet, and I’ve been doing some research on it, just seeing how it has turned out for Olympic athletes, for other athletes in other sports, other disciplines,” Santander said through team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “I’m interested about it. I think I’ll try to take some steps towards it. I don’t think it’s going to be a change overnight, but I’ll take some steps towards it and see if it fits me.”
While it’s been more pronounced this year, Santander has a long track record of hitting well when he’s healthy. It was a shoulder injury that made him available in the 2016 Rule 5 draft, bringing him to the Orioles. When he returned to the majors in 2019, he put together an 80-game stretch in which he hit .287 with 17 home runs and an .827 OPS, then fell off badly because of a variety of nagging injuries in September.
In the shortened 2020 season, he hit .261 with an .890 OPS and 11 home runs in 37 games before his season ended a month early. He’s only been that player in short bursts this season, and entered Saturday batting .247 with 17 home runs and a .733 OPS. Santander said when he sprained his ankle, he was told he’d need time and rest for it to recover.
“I haven’t had a lot of rest,” Santander said. “I rushed the whole process so that I could try to get back on the field as quickly as possible and try to help my team. I really can’t control that kind of stuff. That kind of stuff happens in the game, and I’m just trying to play through it and just trying to help my team.”
He estimates he came back at around 70-75% health, and is now around 85%. Manager Brandon Hyde said for the last month or so, Santander has been better. Since he returned from 10 days on the COVID injured list July 29, Santander has hit 11 of his 17 home runs with an .828 OPS.
“It’s been a tough year for him,” Hyde said. “He hasn’t been himself for most of the year. The last month, he’s moved around the best he’s moved all year long — the bat-speed has been back, it looks like he’s in his legs a little bit more. You can see the finish in his swing, there’s some balanced finishes there where, for a couple months, it was kind of hard to watch a little bit there. You could tell it was bothering him.
“I really like Anthony a lot. I think Anthony has got a lot of upside. You saw what he could do in a short spurt last year, and even two years ago, he really showed the tools he has. He had some really good moments where he showed he can be a middle-of-the-order bat, switch-hitter, play corner outfield defense. And then this year, that ankle happened right away and he just kind of never got going.”
Santander is trying to take playing through all that as a learning experience. He knows it’s part of the game, but wants to limit those stretches where he can’t help the team. Plant-based diets, according to studies on the matter, are believed to help athletes improve their muscle tissue as well as recover better and increase stamina.
Santander, who is eligible for his second year of salary arbitration, has plenty of incentive to stay on the field and be the type of hitter he’s been when healthy for most of 2022. When he’s been hitting well this year, he says he feels “great,” noting that those are the stretches when he feels part of the time.
“I hopefully can have many more stretches like that so that I can actually be part of the future of this organization,” Santander said.
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“I feel like I’m still young, and there’s so much for me ahead, and that I’m valuable and that I can help this team in the future.”