Phillies finding success with defensive infield shifts
After seeing teams use it against his team last season, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg likes employing this option sometimes.
KYLE KENDRICK was a pitch away from either getting out of a dicey seventh inning, or, in his words, letting the game get "out of hand."
But with the bases loaded and one out on Monday night, and Toronto already up, 3-0, Kendrick threw a 3-1 sinker and watched as Edwin Encarnacion grounded into a 6-4-3 doubleplay to end the inning. But it wasn't a traditional 6-4-3 doubleplay.
Shortstop Freddy Galvis fielded the ball in the hole between where a third baseman and shortstop are usually positioned. And he was one of three infielders on the left side of second base.
The Phillies employed a defensive shift on the play - and somewhat regularly against a pull-happy, righthanded-heavy Toronto lineup on Monday - with Chase Utley sliding over to the other side of second base.
"It's been pretty effective the first time around, applying it and trying it," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "It make sense with certain hitters, with their tendencies . . . Like the doubleplay ball last night, as soon as that's hit, I'm thinking it's in the hole, then I remember we have the shift on. It just looks so unnatural, looks like a clean base hit, and then you have a guy standing there to make the routine doubleplay. If hitters aren't going to make an adjustment, then it's an effective weapon."
According to data from Baseball Info Solutions, the Phillies shifted their defense fewer than 28 other teams in 2013. But after seeing other teams succeed in shifting regularly last season, including the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Pirates, Sandberg went to work poring over spray charts and scouting reports this offseason.
Sandberg, bench coach Larry Bowa and first-base coach Juan Samuel utilize the same information daily during the 2014 season.
"When it's black and white, when a guy goes the whole year last year without hitting a ball to a certain spot, on the opposite field, we just say, 'Hey, we're going to play a shift there and see what happens, make that hitter change his approach,' " Sandberg said. "Whether it's a power guy now trying to take a slap single the opposite way - a lot of time you'll take that."
Sandberg first showed off his newfound affinity for defensive shifts 2 months ago against the Atlanta Braves in a spring-training game. Third baseman Reid Brignac moved in between Jimmy Rollins and Utley, behind second base, when Atlanta lefthanded-hitting first baseman Freddie Freeman stepped to the plate for his first at-bat.
Freeman singled to leftfield. He walked in his two other plate appearances.
On Monday, the Phillies used it against four Blue Jays hitters - Jose Bautista, Encarnacion, Juan Francisco and Colby Rasmus - and got six ground-ball outs from those players. "I really saw it last year used a lot against us," Sandberg said. "So it made sense to look at that closer and just look at the facts and try it. We tried it in spring training just to see if it really does work on certain guys, and it's been effective."
Rollins still ailing
Shortly after the Phillies stretched and began their pregame batting practice, Jimmy Rollins walked out onto the field and toward Sandberg with a message: He was a no-go for last night's game.
Rollins was out of the lineup for the second straight game while nursing a right groin injury. His availability for tonight's game in Toronto is unknown.
"He needed another day [today]," Sandberg said. "It's a day-to-day thing."
Rollins came off the bench in a pinch-hitting appearance Monday night and last night. Rollins could return to the lineup tonight at the Rogers Centre without having to fulfill his usual shortstop duties. The Phillies will employ a designated hitter in each of the next 2 nights, as their home-and-home, four-game series with the Blue Jays changes venues and into an American League ballpark. Toronto sends lefthander Mark Buehrle to the mound tonight and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey tomorrow.
According to Ryne Sandberg, Darin Ruf (oblique) has played in "four or five" extended spring-training games within the last week. Ruf suffered the rib-cage injury a week before the Phillies broke camp in spring training. Last week, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Ruf would have to get regular at-bats on a minor league rehab assignment before rejoining the Phillies . . . The Phillies will play in the 20,000th game in franchise history tomorrow night. The Phillies played their first game on May 1, 1883, and are the oldest, continuous, one-nickname, one-city franchise in professional sports. (They were briefly called the "Blue Jays" in the early 1940s, but the name change was never official.)