Tennessee catcher Benito Santiago (Aaron Fitt)


San Diego Notebook: Benito’s Breakout


SAN DIEGO — Maybe a return to the city of his birth was just what Benito Santiago needed to wake up his bat.

Santiago’s father of the same name spent the first six years of his 20-year major league career playing for the Padres, where he had his best seasons. Benito Jr. had family members in attendance for his homecoming of sorts Friday at San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn Stadium, and he put on a show in Tennessee’s first game of the day against Seton Hall.

On the day, Santiago had six RBIs in a pair of Tennessee victories — 12-5 against the Pirates and 8-4 against San Diego State. It was the breakout the Vols have been waiting for from Santiago, who started the season in a 2-for-15 slump entering Friday. The lefthanded-hitting junior catcher started out the day with a sharp lineout the other way to left field — which was a good omen for him. In his second at-bat, he hit a rocket off the left-field fence for a two-run triple. In his third trip, he launched a towering two-run homer off the scoreboard in right-center. It was a no-doubter, and he clearly relished it, raising his right arm and pointing skyward as he rounded first base.

“As you see by his numbers, he struggled a little bit out of the gate offensively,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said. “I told him when he lined to left in his first at-bat, ‘That leads to a great day for you.’ Because that’s his approach. He’s gotten a little pull-happy early on, and sure enough it led — that ball he hit to center field off the scoreboard was as good a home run as I’ve seen in a long time. But we need him offensively to get going.”

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