Santiago working his way back

Ramon Santiago (Photo/Max Waugh)

TACOMA, Wash. - Ramon Santiago's baseball career to this point has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. Therefore, it's not surprising that he followed a solid spring with an 0-for-17 slump, and then turned it around in the next 20 days. But despite his hitting inconsistencies, Santiago maintains an even keel, basing his play on a foundation of hard work and a mentality of team before individual. But will this be enough to earn him another chance with the Mariners?

Entering the sixth game of the Rainiers' season, Ramon Santiago didn't need a calculator to figure out his batting average. That's because, at that point, he was 0 for the season, .000. Or maybe, better put, "DOH! for the season."

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

For the second straight year, Santiago had put together an impressive spring. He combined his usual stellar defense and hustle with a .294 batting average, going 10 for 34. He wasn't sent down to Triple-A until the last week of spring training, when the M's unexpectedly picked up Wilson Valdez to start the year at shortstop.

The stage was set for the 25-year-old to excel, especially offensively, and perhaps earn an early promotion to the big leagues. Instead, Santiago started the season 0-for-17.

"I did a lot of things [to get out of the slump]. I worked in the cage every day," Santiago said.

The switch-hitter admitted that a great deal of getting out of a slump is your attitude.

"You've got to believe you can do it," the infielder remarked.

Leading off the April 12th game against Sacramento, Santiago singled to right for his first hit of the year. Later in the seventh, he got his second hit, a line-drive homer to left.

"Oh man! It felt good," said Santiago, thinking back to his first hit of the season.

Since that rough start, Santiago has reached base in 18 of the last 20 games. He is batting .297 (19 for 64) in those 20 games, and the stroke he showed this spring seems to be coming back.

"I'm trying to hit pitches that are lower in the zone, and waiting for good pitches to hit," the 25-year-old explained, trying not to give away too much information.

His improved production has helped the Rainiers on the scoreboard, as Santiago has scored 14 runs in the last 20 games.

So which Ramon Santiago will the Rainiers see this season? Last year, after a .377 batting average in spring training, Ramon struggled mightily, hitting .193 for the Rainiers and only .179 for the Mariners. He has yet to show a consistent level of success hitting the baseball.

So why does Santiago hit so well in spring training compared to the regular season?

"I concentrate just as hard, and I use the same approach at the plate… I don't know, maybe I just hit better over there," the former Tiger offered, with a shrug.

Before coming to the Mariners organization in the Carlos Guillen trade, Santiago played regularly for the Detroit Tigers, leading the AL in sacrifice bunts in 2003. He was called up four times last year to play infield for the Mariners, but hit very poorly.

When talking about what he feels he needs to do to return to the Mariners, Ramon was very candid about his approach.

"I try to work hard and play good defense and try to get my average up, work on my hitting," Santiago said. "They say you never know what's going to happen," he added, perhaps alluding to injuries to shortstops Pokey Reese and Jose Lopez, shortstops ahead of Santiago on the M's depth chart.

Even if his recent success with the bat does not last, Ramon Santiago is a valuable asset to the Rainiers. He plays great defense at second and shortstop, his work ethic is apparent on the field and he hustles on every play. A consummate team player, Santiago puts the team first when he talks about his goals for the year.

"My goals are to come to the park every day and do the best I can to help my teammates," he said.

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