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Merrifield turns stellar double play in overshift

Unlike previous seasons, Yost to employ defensive technique
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

DETROIT -- As right-hander Jakob Junis continued to put up zeroes in the Royals' 1-0 win over the Tigers on Tuesday, he also did so with the help of some terrific defense -- and a new commitment by manager Ned Yost to overshifting.

The Tigers were beginning to mount a rally in the fourth inning when Nicholas Castellanos reached on an error to lead off. With one out, James McCann sent a rocket headed toward center field.

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DETROIT -- As right-hander Jakob Junis continued to put up zeroes in the Royals' 1-0 win over the Tigers on Tuesday, he also did so with the help of some terrific defense -- and a new commitment by manager Ned Yost to overshifting.

The Tigers were beginning to mount a rally in the fourth inning when Nicholas Castellanos reached on an error to lead off. With one out, James McCann sent a rocket headed toward center field.

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But Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield snared the liner with a diving stop to his left, then threw out Castellanos, who had strayed off first base, for a double play. Merrifield wouldn't have been near the ball without the Royals aligned in an overshift toward third base.

"When it works, it's great," Merrifield said. "If it works more than not, stick with it. "The [analogy] I think the analytical people use is that Vegas might lose one night, but over the course of a month, the odds are in Vegas' favor."

For years, Yost resisted the temptation to overshift. Not anymore.

Yost's explanation?

"I just didn't believe we needed it since we won a World [Series] championship without it," Yost said. "It didn't make any sense, but this is a different group. And there's enough data out there to support using it."

Yost also believed that his former teams -- the two World Series teams in 2014 and '15 -- were athletic enough that overshifting wasn't necessary.

But with a new group of players, Yost has conceded it's time to try it.

"In talking with our analytical department and with [senior director] John Williams, they've been very strong proponents of the shift the last couple of years," Yost said. "With this group of players, I'm more apt to be more experimental. In my mind, it's harder when you have a more established group of players and throw something like a shift on them.

"But with this new group, I'm OK with it. If you shift 2,000 times over the course of a year, it will save you a bunch of hits. Let's give it a wholehearted try and see. Let's get out of our comfort level a little bit, or at least me out of my comfort level."

On at least two occasions on Monday, an overshift toward third base prevented two hits up the middle and into center field (one of the ground balls was fumbled by Merrifield for an error).

"There were a couple of times [right-hander Jason] Hammel turned around and kind of tipped his cap because we were positioned right," Yost said.

So far, the Royals infielders and pitchers have bought in, sort of.

"The analytics department thinks it's good for us," Merrifield said, "so I'm going to do what I'm told to do.

"You're going to take some hits away. There's also going to be 24 hoppers right to the second baseman that I won't be able to get to [because I'm in short right field], but you have to live with that."

Hammel has grown accustomed to the overshifts. He played for Joe Maddon, who was one of the early believers in the strategy, with the Rays and Cubs.

"I think a couple of balls that got through [Monday] maybe wouldn't have [without the overshift]," Hammel said. "But that's the give and take. I prefer straight up, but that's not the way the game is going right now."

But Yost is all in.

"You will [get burned] sometimes," Yost said, "but these are smart guys and they work the numbers. It's got to be a 75 percent chance it works. You're playing the odds. It doesn't mean you're going to be right all the time. There's 82s and 66s [percentages] -- there are no 100s. You play the percentages."

Royals request waivers on Zimmer

The Royals have requested unconditional release waivers on right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the team's first-round pick in the 2012 Draft. Zimmer was designated for assignment last week.

If Zimmer clears waivers, the Royals are hoping to bring him back.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Whit Merrifield