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Cardinals utilizing unique shift against lefties

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- It barely showed up in the box score, and it surely didn't make a highlight reel. In fact, the top of the fourth inning of Tuesday night's 6-5 loss to the Mets breezed by quite uneventfully. Cardinals starter Luke Weaver retired Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez in order, needing just 10 pitches.

But within those 10 pitches, the Cardinals offered a glimpse of a slightly altered defensive strategy. With nobody on base, the infield shifted purposely against left-handed slugger Bruce -- just not radically.

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ST. LOUIS -- It barely showed up in the box score, and it surely didn't make a highlight reel. In fact, the top of the fourth inning of Tuesday night's 6-5 loss to the Mets breezed by quite uneventfully. Cardinals starter Luke Weaver retired Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez in order, needing just 10 pitches.

But within those 10 pitches, the Cardinals offered a glimpse of a slightly altered defensive strategy. With nobody on base, the infield shifted purposely against left-handed slugger Bruce -- just not radically.

View Full Game Coverage

Second baseman Kolten Wong backed up a few feet onto the right-field grass, while shortstop Paul DeJong inched over toward second base. But DeJong did not cross it, and third baseman Matt Carpenter moved over minimally from his normal position.

Slow-footed and prone to pulling the ball on the ground, Bruce faced 338 shifts last season, the fourth most of any hitter in the Majors, per FanGraphs.com.

But the Cardinals kept two infielders on the left side against Bruce, with Weaver on the mound, a pitcher whose velocity wouldn't necessarily preclude a lefty from pulling the ball (like, for example, Jordan Hicks).

Last year, the Cardinals approached Bruce differently. With nobody on, the club moved third baseman Jedd Gyorko over to the second-base side against Bruce last July. The change is visible here:

Tweet from @JoeTrezz: Thought this was interesting from last night. Look how the Cardinals shifted Jay Bruce compared to how they shifted him last year in the same situation. July 2017 (LEFT), April 2018 (RIGHT) pic.twitter.com/1dZB4y5HLu

It's just one example, but it offered a snapshot of this altered strategy.

St. Louis' over shifts per game, by year (Major League rank)
2018: 3.81 (28th)
2017: 2.1 (29th)
2016: 5.00 (17th)
2015: 1.9 (26th)

So the Cardinals are actually shifting more, not relative to the Majors, but for them. What's different is the nature of the shifts. There are more of them, but they're less extreme, at least in the early going.

"More incremental shifts, and letting our instincts take over," Wong said. "Sometimes this year, we're not shifting the shortstop over on pull lefties, especially with two strikes. We're keeping it really to the main guys, the real big lefties."

The change can be attributed to a variety of factors, from the small sample to the lopsided early schedule, from the return of infield coach Jose Oquendo to the arrival of several new arms.

"We do let the pitchers voice an opinion in this, and we have new pitchers," manager Mike Matheny said.

The team is less likely to shift behind Hicks, a rookie, because of his triple-digit fastball. It's also in the process of learning how to shift behind Miles Mikolas, who elicits a lot of soft contact, but is inexperienced with the shift. Teams rarely shift in Japan, where Mikolas pitched the past three seasons.

"The whole revolution here started around the time I left," Mikolas said. "As far as I'm concerned, our influence starts and ends with the type of pitcher we are."

Matheny said the club approaches each hitter on a case-by-case basis. He described a collaborative effort between the front office, players and coaching staff that factors in analytics, instincts and situation. Most of the on-field directive comes from Oquendo and first-base coach Oliver Marmol, who Wong and DeJong credit with positioning them shrewdly to both sides.

Norris ready to roll
A day after he was unavailable due to arm soreness, closer Bud Norris proclaimed himself ready to pitch again. Matheny also confirmed Norris would be available.

On Tuesday, exhausted of his other top relievers, Matheny turned to long reliever Matt Bowman in the 10th inning of a tied game at home. That's typically a spot for the club's closer, which, right now, is Norris. Bowman allowed a game-winning homer to Bruce.

Umpire auction
The Cardinals are taking part in Major League Baseball's 10th annual "UMPS CARE" auction, selling a Cardinals cap signed by Hall of Famer Joe Torre.

MLB umpires will offer up more than 300 items that include priceless autographed sports memorabilia, one-of-a-kind VIP experiences and upgraded ticket packages during its online auction, which is currently open at www.mlb.com/UmpsCare and closes at 9 p.m. CT on Monday.

Some of the items up for bid include signed bats, cleats, jerseys, photos and baseballs from some of the Majors' biggest stars. There are also opportunities to watch batting practice up close on the field at many MLB ballparks, hotel stays with game tickets, opportunities to have lunch with an MLB umpire, suites and tickets from Minor League Baseball clubs, golf foursomes and more.

All proceeds from the auction support UMPS CARE Charities youth programs to provide Major League Baseball experiences for children awaiting adoption, Build-A-Bear Workshop experiences for hospitalized children coping with serious illnesses, college scholarships for deserving young adults who were adopted as children and financial assistance for families in need.

"Each year, thanks to the support from our friends in Major League Baseball and throughout the sports world, we get some fantastic items for our auction, and this year is no exception," said Gary Darling, former MLB umpire and board president for UMPS CARE Charities. "This is the biggest fundraising initiative that we have to help so many children in need, and we can't thank everyone enough for all of the support. Please tell all of your friends, bid early and bid often to help this great cause."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals