Tigers tweak shift after bunt singles
Ausmus adjusts defensive alignment after two Royals take advantage in opener
KANSAS CITY -- The Tigers aren't going to abandon their infield shift on Royals left-handed hitters after bunt singles from Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer down the third-base line on consecutive nights. They are, however, going to tweak it.
They already began doing so by the time Hosmer came up again Friday night, after his bunt single had helped extend the opening inning for Kansas City's three-run outburst. They didn't move third baseman Nick Castellanos back over to the left side, but they moved shortstop Jose Iglesias in on the infield dirt on one-strike counts, manager Brad Ausmus said.
"Normally I stay back for one strike," Iglesias said.
Both Moustakas and Hosmer bunted immediately after first-pitch strikes in the opening inning, after Iglesias had retreated to his normal depth. It doesn't necessarily give him a better chance to field a good bunt, but in theory, it forces a hitter to make a better bunt. Simply getting a ball down and getting it past the pitcher isn't necessarily enough.
For skilled bunters, that isn't a particularly big obstacle. But as Ausmus pointed out, "The guys you shift against generally aren't bunters. And if you've got someone anywhere in the neighborhood, it takes the idea of bunting away. You don't shift against guys who are bunters, because they can do it all day long."
For Moustakas, it was his second bunt hit this season. For Hosmer, it was his first, matching his total from last season. Moustakas had none last year.
Others have tried it this season. Yankees catcher Brian McCann attempted a bunt against the Tigers' shift on April 21, which Kyle Lobstein fielded off the mound for an out. The Twins started a rally off back-to-back bunts on Wednesday, albeit without any shift on Danny Santana and Brian Dozier.
Moustakas was the 10th most-shifted batter in baseball last year, according to the Bill James Handbook. He hit just .179 on ground balls and line drives against the shift, and even worse at .135 when he wasn't shifted. Moustakas has made an effort to hit to the opposite field more, and opponents have taken notice.
That still won't stop the shifting, at least on the Tigers' part, but they might tweak things some more. As defensive coordinator Matt Martin noted, it's a process that evolves with each batch of new information.
"We'll adjust things," Martin said. "People tend to overreact on certain deals. We don't do a 180, but we'll make adjustments. You shouldn't abandon your plan, but make adjustments. Last year, we made adjustments that were subtle, and we'll continue to make adjustments."