BOSTON — To better explain it, Anthony Santander got into a batting stance in the visitor’s dugout at Fenway Park. He was barefoot, as the Orioles outfielder prefers to be when not on the diamond. He bent his knees slightly, raised his arms to hold an imaginary bat. And then he flexed his toes.
He spread them as much as he could, then repeated his favorite words twice: “Push it apart. Push it apart.”
That phrase constantly runs through Santander’s mind when he’s at the plate, and the results have led to the best season of his professional career. Santander blasted his 30th and 31st home runs Monday night against the Boston Red Sox, then returned Tuesday to hit Nos. 32 and 33. With those long balls, Santander joined Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray as the only switch hitters in Orioles history to launch 30 or more long balls in a season.
His power has improved, as has his durability. The secret to it all?
Or at least, that’s where it all begins, with an altered offseason workout regimen that started from the bottom — literally — and has helped him create a launching pad of sorts for a breakout campaign.
“It’s like when you’re making a building,” Santander explained through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “You can’t start from the top down. You start from the bottom up to make sure the foundation is good so the rest can be stabilized and upright.”
The focus began at the end of last season, when Santander decided he wanted to reevaluate his approach and improve physically. He began to eat differently, focused on increasing his rest in the offseason and searched for a new trainer.
Santander met Troy Jones in Miami, the Director of Performance Science and Education at the House of Athlete. The two began one-on-one training exercises that initially confused Santander. Earlier in his career, he focused more on bench pressing or squatting. But when Jones emphasized strengthening Santander’s toes?
“It was a bit difficult and different,” Santander said. “But once he explained all that, that’s one of the reasons I chose him, because of all those little details that went into the workouts. I like his philosophy because it’s everything put into one. It’s not just benching or focusing on one thing, it’s everything combined together: flexibility, mobility, stretching. All of that put together really comes together nice.”
So in the offseason, Santander ran barefoot on Miami beaches.When he worked out, he was shoeless as well. And when he walks around the clubhouse, he’s often without shoes, too. As Santander understands, he works out different muscles, strengthening his base.
Occasionally, as he walks around the clubhouse, Santander wears a piece of purple plastic between his toes to separate each one.
Santander put his feet up on a chair to give a better view. The toes on his left foot are spaced out, but the little toe on his right foot still hugs its partner. He wants them more separated to create more grip when he bats or throws. Then, once again, he got into his batting stance, ready to show what’s hidden behind cleats during the game.
“It’s like this, I have to make sure I use my,” Santander said in English, pointing to his toes. “I can feel it under my cleat, so I can create tension on the bat.”
As Santander flexes his toes, his leg muscles tense. That allows for more torque in his rotation, and it has allowed him to lead all major league switch hitters in homers. His 88 RBIs this season are a career high, too. Manager Brandon Hyde said Santander has developed more consistency, and the outfielder credits his toes for that as well.
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Santander has battled several injuries during his career. His 2020 season ended with an oblique injury, and his 2021 season was marred by a sprained left ankle and right knee. Santander has hardly missed any action in 2022, however.
“That’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve had success this year,” Santander said. “Pairing that with the talent I have myself, it’s combined to allow me to have such a great season.”
So each time Santander reaches the plate, there’s more running through his head than just his opposition’s arsenal and attack plan. “Push it apart,” he’ll repeat. And when he connects and sees the ball launch off his bat, Santander can credit his toes — the small detail that has unlocked a breakout season.
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