CLEVELAND -- The Indians' future face of the franchise and heart of the order was walking through the clubhouse on crutches Wednesday.

It was not the kind of sight the Tribe imagined for catcher Carlos Santana in what was supposed to be a breakout rookie season. And in terms of ugliness, it was a sight rivaled only by the grisly replays of Santana's injury at Fenway Park.

Santana has seen the replays, too. He has seen his left knee bent awkwardly and violently as the Red Sox's Ryan Kalish plows into him at home plate.

Somehow, though, he managed to find a positive in the images.

"I feel good," he said through coach Ruben Niebla, acting as an interpreter, "that I was able to hold onto the baseball."

So, yeah, there's that.

But Santana saw his season come to a crashing close with that collision, and the long rehab that he and the Indians hope has him ready for Spring Training 2011 has begun.

Santana had surgery performed on the knee last week at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Rick Parker repaired Santana's lateral collateral ligament, and the Indians were relieved to learn that Parker did not find any other issues with Santana's knee joint. So while the replays might have conjured up memories of Joe Theismann, the injury was nowhere near as debilitating.

Still, this does lead one to wonder what the future holds for Santana, in terms of his recovery, his performance and how he approaches the game.

For one, Santana admitted that the injury will undoubtedly make him more cautious in future plays at the plate.

"There are some adjustments I could make," he said. "I could definitely learn from that. It's something I can work off of and prepare myself for when there's going to be a play at the plate."

As Tribe manager Manny Acta noted, Santana had almost zero time to react in that particular instance.

"It wasn't like he had three minutes to get ready," said Acta, who is now giving the regular catching duties to Lou Marson. "It was a bang-bang play. If you give him five seconds, he wasn't going to get all spread out like that."

After addressing that issue Wednesday, Acta quickly wanted to move on to other topics.

"No more Santana questions until December," Acta said.

It was a joke, but it was also telling. Acta has already dealt with, among other things, the loss of Grady Sizemore in May and an extended absence of Asdrubal Cabrera. Losing Santana with two months left in his rookie season was a cruel blow to a rebuilding Indians team that will be counting on the catcher in future years.

Santana, who was batting .260 with six homers, 22 RBIs and an .868 OPS in his first 46 games, said he is dealing with that blow as best he can.

"I don't feel cheated," he said. "I feel bad it happened, but I'm dealing with it. In my mind, I know I'm going to be back next year and be able to make an impact."

And when it comes to the gruesome replays, Santana accentuated the positives. The injury could have been much, much worse, and at least he didn't lose his grip on the ball.

The Indians will just have to embrace those positives until next spring.