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Headley out to exploit defensive shifts

Third baseman hoping to take advantage of opponents' alignment for easy hits
MLB.com @BryanHoch

ST. PETERSBURG -- Chase Headley is ready to do whatever it takes to avoid another slow start to his season, including grabbing free hits whenever they are presented by the overshifted defense.

Headley started his season with three such hits on Opening Day, then homered and added an RBI single through the vacated shortstop hole in Tuesday's 5-0 win over the Rays. The switch-hitter said he hopes that opposing clubs heed the message when they consider where to place their fielders.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Chase Headley is ready to do whatever it takes to avoid another slow start to his season, including grabbing free hits whenever they are presented by the overshifted defense.

Headley started his season with three such hits on Opening Day, then homered and added an RBI single through the vacated shortstop hole in Tuesday's 5-0 win over the Rays. The switch-hitter said he hopes that opposing clubs heed the message when they consider where to place their fielders.

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"I wanted to work on that some, so I could sort of defense against the shift a little bit," Headley said. "I'm a better hitter when I use the entire field. I want to be able to get a bunt down and to hopefully make the guys stand a little bit closer to where they're supposed to."

Headley said that he recognized an opportunity to exploit the Rays' defense in the season opener, with right-hander Chris Archer throwing him "a boatload of sliders." One of Headley's hits was a perfectly placed bunt single down the third-base line. 

Video: NYY@TB: Headley beats the shift with a bunt single

"There's times when teams pitch you where you're able to kind of do what I was doing, and there are other times when it's pretty tough," Headley said. "So I definitely want to take what they give me, but I'm not going to try to shoot ground balls over there all the time."

The Yankees have had players who were reluctant to change their approach, most notably Mark Teixeira, whose response was to try to hit the ball over the shift. Manager Joe Girardi said that Headley's willingness to go the other way "could be really beneficial."

"I think hitters can get to the point where they get pretty frustrated by it," Girardi said. "They realize, 'I do have to make somewhat of a change here.'

"Head is a guy that hits the ball with some authority the other way at times to the outfield, so if you feel that you have that bat control, I want you to do it. If you're not comfortable doing it, it's hard to ask a player to do it. It comes down to a comfort level for them. If you have the ability to do it, take a shot."

Video: NYY@TB: Headley grounds an RBI single into left field

After Headley did not log an extra-base hit in April last season, hitting .625 through two games is a welcome change.

"It feels a heck of a lot better than it did for a month and a half last year," Headley said. "There's a long ways to go, but obviously when you get a couple of hits early on, it kind of takes the pressure off."

Worth noting

Due to weather concerns, the Yankees' fifth-starter competition will continue in Florida this week, with right-handers Chad Green and Jordan Montgomery both pitching for Class A Tampa on Thursday. Green, Montgomery and Luis Cessa are all in the mix to pitch on April 16 against the Cardinals.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Chase Headley