Spring training games are the perfect opportunity for MLB teams to try something new, whether it’s breaking a player into a new position or experimenting with various lineups and pitching combinations.
In Wednesday’s exhibition game between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, the Astros tried a defensive alignment against Nationals first baseman Matt Adams that didn’t look like anything typically seen on a major league diamond.
Houston put a new wrinkle on the trend of shifting infielders to one side of the diamond, this time putting five players in the outfield and only two on the infield.
The formation had four outfielders playing in deep positions, similar to a slow-pitch softball game. An infielder stood in the outfield grass, about halfway between the infield dirt and the outfielders on the grass. Two infielders stood near first and second.
The entire left side of the infield was open.
“This is cool,” said Nationals TV analyst F.P. Santangelo. “This is like beer league softball.”
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Did the shift work? Well, the Astros never really got a chance to find out, since Adams struck out in his at-bat.
Defensive shifts in baseball — which typically involve a second baseman playing in shallow right-center field, the shortstop covering the right-side of the infield and the third baseman moving to the shortstop position — have become a regular part of the game for just about every team.
That doesn’t mean everyone likes them.
Then-Yankees manager Joe Girardi said two years ago that if he were in charge of the sport, defensive shifts would be outlawed.
“It is an illegal defense, like basketball,” Girardi said. “Guard your man, guard your spot. If I were commissioner, they would be illegal.”
Then-Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez also argued against the shift in 2015, saying left-handed pull hitters would see so many defensive shifts they would be considered less valuable to a team.
“In my opinion, you shouldn’t be able to have three infielders on one side of the infield,” Gonzalez said. “That, to me, is an illegal defense.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, considered one of the pioneers of bringing the shift back to baseball in the past decade, says players simply need to adjust their strategy at the plate.
“Let the market work its way out. You don’t need extra rules and regulations in clubhouse,” Maddon said. “The players will work it out. It’ll lighten up as players start to make the proper adjustments.”
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