Lakeland, Fla. – The play happened Wednesday in Clearwater. If the play is not made, it probably leads to a big inning for the Phillies. If it’s made, and in this case it was, the Tigers put up a zero in a game they won by a couple of runs.
You might recall, the Tigers lost 47 games by two runs or less last year.
With right-hander Spencer Turnbull pitching, Jean Segura led off the fourth inning with a single. With left-handed pull hitter Bryce Harper up next, the Tigers over-shifted their infield. Third baseman Niko Goodrum was shaded over nearly to second base.
So when Harper slapped a single to center, Segura thought he would be able to get to third uncontested. Goodrum, though, back-pedaled like a defensive back, right to the base where the throw from JaCoby Jones was almost literally waiting for him.
Jones threw a one-hop strike right on the bag, just as Goodrum was getting there. Segura was out, the rally averted.
“Segura might have thought Niko wasn’t going to get to the base,” bench coach Steve Liddle said. “But think about it, JaCoby made a great play because he’s throwing to an unoccupied base. That’s tough. He’s basically playing quarterback from center field.
“He’s got to throw the ball to the base and trust that Niko is going to get there.”
It’s a difficult play for Goodrum, too. He was moving toward second base trying to get to Harper’s ground ball. But he was mindful of Segura getting to third and he was able to take a couple of quick steps, pivot and back-pedal his way to the bag.
“Niko did a great job,” Jones said. “He’s athletic. I just tried to keep it low and hope he would get to the base.”
The day before, though, the Tigers got burned in the shift. They gave up an uncontested steal of third base when regular third baseman Jeimer Candelario was shifted over toward second.
“We have to be careful about the shift,” Liddle said. “We were late covering third on that one and it cost us a run. When you lose a lot of one-run ballgames (30 of them last season) those are the things that come into play.
“Those are some things we need to clean up. We need to be able to those things right day in and day out to beat front-running teams – and to be where we want to be.”
The Tigers set-up man and closer pitched on back-to-back days for the first time this spring on Friday. After working a scoreless inning each against the Astros Thursday, Joe Jimenez and Shane Greene each worked an inning against minor-league hitters on the back fields Friday. Neither gave up a hit or a run.