Blue Jays deploy 4-man OF vs. Harper

Manager Montoyo expects to use various unorthodox strategies

March 9th, 2019

CLEARWATER -- Charlie Montoyo stayed true to his word by using a four-man outfield every time Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper stepped to the plate on Saturday afternoon at Spectrum Field.

Montoyo told reporters earlier in the week that the defensive alignment would be unveiled this weekend. Turns out he wasn't kidding, and it's something the Blue Jays intend to use during the regular season as well whenever the data suggests it's a smart move.

In Toronto's 8-7 win over Philadelphia, Eric Sogard went from third base to left field both times Harper stepped into the batter's box. The other three players slid over to their left and evenly distributed themselves throughout the outfield.

"I got back to the dugout and talked to Larry Bowa about that and said, 'Have you ever seen that, Larry?' He said, 'Nope,'" Harper said after he walked in both of his plate appearances. "First time I've ever seen that. It's intense."

The four-man outfield is not an entirely foreign concept to the Blue Jays. Former Minnesota manager Paul Molitor went with the same alignment on multiple occasions last season when Toronto sent Justin Smoak to the plate. Houston, Cleveland and Arizona are three other teams that have experimented with the idea.

Montoyo previously hinted that this would not be a one-time experiment.

He spent last year as the bench coach for a Rays team that is known for being creative when it comes to in-game strategy. Extreme infield shifts, regular platoons, an occasional reliever starting games and a four-man outfield are all things the Blue Jays should be expected to use.

Toronto starter Matt Shoemaker was on the mound when Harper stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first. He had never pitched with four outfielders before, but said he was made aware of the club's plans before the at-bat so it would not catch him off guard. Outside of that, he just tried to keep it out of his mind.

"I'm still going to attack with my game plan, attack the hitter," Shoemaker said after allowing three runs over three innings. "Whatever creates outs, I love. If it leads to outs, give it to me all day long."

Naturally, the Phillies were not as impressed. Pitchers typically love the shift and hitters understandably don't. Harper is able to laugh about it now, but he will likely find it less funny during the year if it starts impacting his number of extra-base hits. Hitters might not like it, but there's also nothing they can do about it.

"You see it, 'Oh, OK,'" Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins said. "It doesn’t make you do anything different, because as soon as you try to do something different, they win. If I’m trying to hit a ground ball to the right side, then they’ve done their job and I’m not doing mine. You don’t want me to bunt, I promise you."

The hypnotist

There was no shortage of jokes floating around the Blue Jays' clubhouse on Saturday morning after they were visited by a hypnosis comedian. Toronto's coaching staff and front office recently decided to schedule a series of team-bonding exercises for the spring. Saturday's was the first, but it won't be the last.

Montoyo had some fun with local reporters after the hour-long session was over. He walked out to his scrum with his eyes closed and arms stretched out in an attempt to mimic the walk of a zombie. Montoyo still isn't entirely sure if he believes everything he saw, but some of his players at least gave the appearance of being hypnotized.

"It was funny," Montoyo said. "All kinds of stuff. They were going down a rollercoaster, it got hot, they were sweating, all kinds of stuff like that. At one time, Smoak got up. He said it was real. But nothing crazy ... It was great because everybody was laughing, everybody gets together, they all have fun. It was a great idea. I’m glad we did it."

Worth noting

-- Outfielder 's bat continued its recent torrid pace with yet another home run on Saturday. Alford hit a three-run homer, drew a walk and scored two runs as he continues to be one of Toronto's hottest hitters in camp. Alford is 6-for-his-last-12 at-bats with seven RBIs. The 24-year-old is still not expected to be a factor for the Opening Day roster, but he remains a part of the club's future as the Blue Jays' No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

-- Rule 5 Draft pick Elvis Luciano recorded a second consecutive rough outing on Saturday. Luciano surrendered four runs in his last appearance, and he allowed two more to Philadelphia in one inning. Luciano, who is competing for a spot in the bullpen, continues to flash mid-90s velocity, with impressive movement on his fastball. The issue is that the 19-year-old right-hander's other pitches still need a lot of work, as both of the home runs came on changeups.

Up next

Left-hander Ryan Borucki will make his fourth start of the spring when the Blue Jays travel to Fort Myers to face the Twins on Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Prospect Cavan Biggio is expected to be in the lineup for this game after missing the previous three days following a car accident.