TAMPA — Aaron Judge was confused. Greg Bird thought an infielder was being blocked by an umpire.
Say hello to a hitter walking into the batter’s box and seeing an infielder moving to the outfield to provide four defenders.
“I was confused. I didn’t know what was going on until after,’’ Judge said of seeing four outfielders when he came to the plate in the first inning of Saturday’s 17-7 trouncing of the Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “I saw two guys in the gaps. Looking at the pitcher I saw two guys in the gaps. I guess the center fielder must be in the middle and those guys in the gaps pretty tight. It was a little different to see.’’
With second baseman Richard Urena in the right-center gap to protect against Judge’s ability to hit the ball that way, Judge crushed a pitch from lefty Thomas Pannone over the St. Joseph’s Hospital pavilion in left field in the first inning.
“That’s one way to beat it,’’ Judge said of the alignment that isn’t ground-breaking but gaining popularity throughout the game to combat hitters attempting to lift the ball.
The Blue Jays decided leaving the left side of the infield naked by moving third baseman Eric Sogard to left field was a good way to defend the left-handed hitting Bird two batters after Judge’s sixth homer of the spring.
Bird drew a walk and didn’t see the alignment in the next at-bat because Giancarlo Stanton was on base. With the bases empty in the fourth, the Blue Jays went to four outfielders and Bird walked again.
“At first I thought someone was behind an umpire and I couldn’t figure out where the fourth infielder was,’’ Bird said. “Then after the first strike I realized that the outfield had four guys in it and that was interesting.’’
Bird said he didn’t change his approach, but admitted if the count had gotten to two strikes he might have.
Reggie Jackson saw the four outfielder alignment in 1969 and didn’t understand it then.
“They did it to me. I had hit 37 homers in the first half and Billy Martin [managing the Twins] did it.’’ Jackson said. “It didn’t make sense because I am not a pull hitter. I didn’t pay any attention to it.’’
Manager Aaron Boone won’t ever completely rule anything out, but the Yankees don’t have the four outfield deal in their bag.
“I’ll never say never but it is not in there yet,’’ Boone said. “We will see. I mean I am sure there is a lot of thought that goes into it. I understand it.’’
With the left side of the infield completely vacant the bunt is available, but there are hitters who believe if the opposition gets them to bunt then they have done their job.
“The interesting [thing] is when somebody does drop a bunt and [Bird] is capable of doing that,’’ Boone said. “That will be interesting to see how that plays out.’’
Asked what he was thinking when he saw the Blue Jays play four outfielders for Judge, Boone kept his thoughts simple.
“I was thinking he should hit it over their heads and he did,’’ Boone said. “I was like, ‘wow.’ ’’
“People are getting very creative with alignments. I think we are very aggressive and creative, obviously not to the point where we have gone to a four man [outfield],’’ Boone said. “We have talked about different things with a guy like [Zack] Britton, such a ground ball guy do we consider in certain spots do we consider a five-man infield?’’
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