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Bell comfortable with calculated risks of shifting

Hernandez finding success in relief with increased slider usage
@m_sheldon
June 12, 2019

CLEVELAND -- Under Reds manager David Bell this season, the club's defense has been employing more shifts than ever. On a few occasions -- lately with a runner on third base and a lefty hitter batting -- Bell has had third baseman Eugenio Suarez positioned near the traditional shortstop spot,

CLEVELAND -- Under Reds manager David Bell this season, the club's defense has been employing more shifts than ever. On a few occasions -- lately with a runner on third base and a lefty hitter batting -- Bell has had third baseman Eugenio Suarez positioned near the traditional shortstop spot, not trying to hold the runner.

The Phillies appeared to flirt with the idea of taking advantage when Jean Segura was halfway down the line with Jay Bruce batting Saturday, but Bryce Harper was the first to try and do a straight steal of home Sunday. Harper was caught by Reds starter Sonny Gray and catcher Curt Casali.

Bell understands it’s a calculated risk of shifting with a runner on third.

“I’m more comfortable doing it with a right-handed pitcher because they’re looking right at him and all they have to do is step off [the rubber],” Bell said. “It does make you uncomfortable, but not at the expense of leaving the hole. Those guys we’re shifting, they don’t hit the ball to third base. But they will hit the ball to the traditional shortstop area. So, if we can cover that, it’s a much better defensive position to be in than to be worrying about the runner at third.”

During the 2-1 loss to Cleveland in 10 innings Tuesday, Reds starter Luis Castillo worked with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning. There was a shift against lefty hitters Jose Ramirez and Jake Bauers. At third base, Francisco Lindor bluffed like he might break for home.

Castillo appeared to wink at Lindor.

“In those situations like that, I think the best thing that you can do as a pitcher is keep calm,” Castillo said. “If you’re tired, your mind doesn’t work the same, your body doesn’t work the same. With Lindor, he was taking a big lead. I was like, ‘Hey man, what’s going on?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m not going to run.’”

Bell was a bit nervous in that moment.

“Last night, Castillo has pitched this great game and it does make you uncomfortable that it could come down to him being distracted by the runner,” Bell said. “It’s been several years now that pitchers are seeing that kind of thing. It’s their job to not get distracted because they know all they have to do is step off. It is an uncomfortable feeling, but he handled it really well.”

Hernandez's go-to slider

As Reds reliever David Hernandez buried Cleveland on Tuesday with two perfect innings and five strikeouts out of his six batters faced, most of those K’s had something in common.

Four of the five strikeout victims fell to Hernandez’s slider for strike three during the eighth and ninth innings. The 34-year-old used to lead with his four-seam fastball or sinker. This season, the slider has become very important in his repertoire.

“I added that pitch after the 2016 season, going into the 2017 season,” Hernandez said. “I didn't have a job. It was a Minor League invite for some reason. I'm stuck in Triple-A, so I'm going to work on my craft and develop that pitch. It's quickly become one of my best pitches, [one of] my go-to pitches in any count.”

According to Statcast, Hernandez is relying on his slider more than ever and came into Wednesday having thrown it more than his other pitches -- 33.8 percent of the time. Last season, his first with Cincinnati, he used it 18.9 percent.

All three hitters Hernandez struck out in the ninth were batting left-handed against the right-hander.

“That's been my Achilles' heel, just being able to put away lefties; they've always been my toughest challenge,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez has a 4.80 ERA in 31 games entering Wednesday, with the high ERA in part a product of a couple of rough outings. The day after he also struck out five of six batters in San Francisco on May 11, he came back and blew a save and took the loss by giving up two earned runs and three hits in an inning of work. On May 27, he allowed four earned runs in one-third of an inning vs. Pittsburgh.

“I think it plays pretty good off my fastball,” Hernandez said of his slider. “I think guys respect my fastball, and I think it comes out looking like my fastball, and it just had that movement for sure. It's something I'm continuously working on. It's been a pitch that's good when it's good, but it's also not very good when it's not good. That's the consistency I'm starting to get with it.”

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.