Detroit — It’s not just the Tigers botching these plays. If you watch games across the league, bases are left uncovered, cutoff men are ignored or overthrown and rundowns are butchered almost nightly.
It’s not quite an epidemic, but it’s troubling, especially to managers — who preach and teach, and practice, these plays regularly.
“I think it’s because of all the different shifts,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said before Friday's game against the White Sox. “The shifts have changed the way we do things.”
The Tigers this season have allowed Cubs' Javier Baez to steal home after a pick-off attempt was made to first base. They allowed the White Sox to score two runs on a sacrifice fly earlier this month after a botched rundown.
Then there was the play in the first inning Tuesday against the Cubs. The Cubs had runners on first and second and the Tigers were overshifted against left-handed hitting Anthony Rizzo. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario was the only defender on the left side of the infield.
Rizzo hit a hard ground ball to the right side, between shortstop Jose Iglesias and second baseman Niko Goodrum. Goodrum stopped the ball but couldn’t come up with it clean. The runner from first went all the way to third because the Tigers left the base uncovered.
“Really, we just got caught napping on that one more than anything else,” Gardenhire said. “Candy just drifted and was watching the play. Then he realized he was supposed to cover third, but it was too late. That’s his job. The ball wasn’t hit to him, so he’s got no other job but to go the other way.”
Candelario said was aware of his responsibility at third, but he thought he may have had a play at second had the ball been caught cleanly. He was caught in-between.
“I broke toward second because I thought Iglesias had a chance to get the ball,” Candelario said. “When I realized he didn’t, I tried to go back (to third).”
Defenders, especially those left alone on one side of the diamond, are asked to cover a lot of ground and make a lot of quick decisions. They can be stuck in a no-win situation at times. It's as frustrating for them as it is for their managers and coaches.
“There are different philosophies as to where to play,” Iglesias said. “It’s becoming a computer game. You’ve got to be aware of where to play, where to be and it changes. Normally, the game will dictate what you do. But these days, we’ve got to follow the reports. It’s a little different.”
Candelario said that particular coverage play, where he has to worry about a force at second and a runner going first to third, is by far the toughest.
“You have to be able to anticipate,” he said. “If you anticipate, you are going to be fine, because you have everything in your mind where you are supposed to go.”
Gardenhire, quality control coach Joe Vavra and infield coach Ramon Santiago have worked all season to streamline and simplify the coverages, in the shift and in regular alignment. Gardenhire's patience for misplays in those situations has run thin.
“I had (catcher James) McCann tell me after that play, ‘How about if I just yell at the pitcher to cover home and I’ll cover third,’” Gardenhire said, shaking his head. “I’m like, ‘We’ll just get the left fielder to run in there.’
“No. All you have to do is pay attention a little bit. You are the only guy on the left side of the infield. It’s not like he had to move for the ball.”
Hit the cutoff man
The misplay that raises Gardenhire’s blood pressure the most is outfielders missing the cutoff man on throws to the infield.
“We’re just not in the right place,” he said. “We don’t line up. It used to be, a ball is hit to right field, the second baseman is standing there, you throw him the ball. Now, the second baseman goes out, the right fielder lobs it over his head and it bounces to second base.
“Just throw it to a guy standing right there!”
Tigers right fielder Nick Castellanos hit the cutoff man perfectly in that same game against the Cubs and Gardenhire said he had resist the urge to celebrate in the dugout.
“You shouldn’t, as a manager, go, ‘Hell yeah!’ when a guy throws a ball to the cutoff man,” he said. “But that’s where we were at.”
White Sox at Tigers
First pitch: 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit
RHP Lucas Giolito (9-9, 6.08), White Sox: This will be his fourth start against the Tigers. The others haven’t gone all that well. He has allowed 13 runs and 18 hits in 17 innings against the Detroit this season.
LHP Ryan Carpenter (1-1, 6.00), Tigers: He returned to the Tigers rotation after a two-month stint on the DL and earned his first big-league win at Minnesota. He gave up three solo homers in that game, but that was all the damage in 5.1 innings. The slider is his best pitch — opponents hitting .222 off it.