In the ninth inning of the Orioles’ April 18 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, their only win in four games thus far against their American League East rival, Baltimore third baseman Rio Ruiz smoked a line drive a projected 306 feet into right field.
Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe caught it.
It was one of a handful of times Ruiz faced a four-man outfield in the series at Tropicana Field, and with the Rays visiting Camden Yards for a series this weekend, it’s possible he’ll see it again. Ruiz emphasized the key to succeeding against such a shift is to avoid changing his approach.
"Find a good pitch to hit and put a barrel on it,” Ruiz said. “Sometimes, there's nothing you can do about where the ball goes after you make contact, but obviously, you want to try to beat the shift and take the ball the other way, but sometimes, when you put that in your head, you miss certain pitches that you can drive.
"I guess that's the norm now, and I guess you've gotta just kind of roll with that and kind of make your adjustments like they make their adjustments."
The Orioles deployed a four-outfielder look in the spring against New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu but have yet to do so in the regular season. Manager Brandon Hyde said it remains a possibility if the right situation presents itself.
“I think it's interesting,” Hyde said last month. “I think there's cool thought behind it and I understand why they did it. I think it's something we're gonna continue to talk about and we'll possibly experiment with.”
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Hyde, the Chicago Cubs’ bench coach last season, recalled the Cubs using a four-man outfield against St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter, who like Ruiz is a left-handed hitter. Carpenter had a pattern of hitting ground balls to one side of the infield while spraying the ball across the outfield, so Chicago moved an infielder to the grass and left the third-base side of the infield open.
“Because he was killing us, we decided to just cover the outfield on him,” Hyde said, “and he bunted twice into it and got two hits, so we stopped doing it.”
Bunting, then, becomes a possible solution for Ruiz if the Rays or another team use a four-man outfield against him again. Hyde said he told Ruiz to not hesitate laying one down, as long as he was comfortable doing so.
Ruiz reiterated he was, saying he has plenty of experience bunting dating to his days as a Southern California high schooler.
“I've always kind of taken whenever I had the opportunity to bunt or work on bunting, I kind of took some pride in that,” Ruiz said. “Made sure that I was doing things right and my technique was right and made sure the bunts were down.”
Hyde noted it’s easier said than done in most cases. In a left-handed batter’s case, dragging a punt down the third-base line is made more difficult because a pitcher is often attacking the inside part of the zone because he wants the batter to hit into the shift. Although many pleaded during Orioles first baseman Chris Davis’ hitless streak for him to lay down a bunt on the open side of the infield, Hyde said doing it is more difficult than perceived. That said, he’s a fan of bunting to beat the shift under the right circumstances.
“You're not just gonna get a two-seamer out over the plate for you to be able to do it easy a lot of times, but if somebody wants to do it, I love it,” Hyde said. “... I told Rio, 'Next time, every time,' if you feel comfortable doing it. I don't wanna force somebody to do it, but in that situation there, I'm all in on it. I'm all in on anybody bunting against the shift. I think there's times when it's not appropriate, but I think if they're gonna take one side of the field away from you, I am 100 percent in if you feel comfortable.”