Williams experiments with defensive shift
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With the bases loaded and the score tied in the bottom of the eighth inning of Tuesday's 8-4 loss to the Braves at Champion Stadium, Spring Training served its purpose for the Nationals.
Manager Matt Williams brought right fielder Steven Souza to the infield dirt to give reliever Luis Ayala a five-man infield against second baseman Philip Gosselin. Left fielder Michael Taylor and center fielder Eury Perez then shifted to the outfield gaps.
Gosselin took advantage of the move, lofting a fly ball that landed right about where Souza would have been standing. Three runs scored, and Gosselin made it all the way to third base with a stand-up triple.
A sinkerball pitcher such as Ayala was the "perfect guy" to have on the mound to try the five-man infield shift, Williams said.
"We've got to work on it," Williams said. "It's one of our plays in case we need it at some point, so we figured, 'OK, we'll try it. We'll see what it looks like.' It was fun."
When Souza reached the infield, he traded gloves with first baseman and non-roster invitee Brock Petersen. In a regular-season game, Williams said, Washington would have likely retrieved an infielder's glove for Souza from the dugout.
Although the situation was unusual, Souza said it was familiar.
"We've practiced it a few times," Souza said. "We went over it a few times, and I think it was a great idea if Ayala gets a ground ball there."
Although the decision did not work out, Williams has no regrets.
"We have to see what it looks like," he said. "Otherwise we'll never be able to use it in a game. It's stuff we have to do during spring, especially early, so we can understand it and then, as we get later into spring, pick our spots if we want to do it. But we have to understand if we can use it in the season in case it gets to that situation."
As for the ball landing in the vacant spot, Souza just chalked it up to chance.
"Yeah, I mean, who knows?" he said. "It's not going to roll like that every day."