There were two oddities in yesterday’s first Spring Training game, neither of which should be particularly alarming, given the date, but each of which received a fair bit of attention: (1) Alfonso Soriano batting leadoff, and (2) David DeJesus and Darwin Barney getting picked off of first base in the same inning by the catcher.
Fortunately, Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum has offered an explanation for them.
On Soriano leading off (something Sveum and Soriano previously said was a theoretical possibility during the season), Sveum said that it’s just about making sure Soriano gets plenty of at bats without having to spend too much time in the field.
“Certain guys you might not want them out there six or seven innings [in spring training] to get their three at-bats,” Sveum said. “You’ll put some guys at the top of the lineup to get their three at-bats really quick and they only have to play five innings in the field right now.
“You try to gradually build into those seven innings on the field, nine innings on the field. You don’t really like giving guys starts without getting three at-bats. Most guys want three at-bats when they start. That’s kind of the basics of that right now.”
Plausible, agreeable, acceptable. I don’t know why Sveum did the whole “maybe he’ll leadoff in the season” song and dance earlier in the weekend, but I’m pretty pleased with where things stand now.
As for item two, Sveum didn’t exactly want Barney and DeJesus to be picked off, but at least the two were working on something.
“You look at it as bad, I look at it as good,” Sveum said of the pickoffs. “They just made the wrong decision. The right decision – and what we’re doing in Spring Training – is that you have to keep going once you read the instincts. In Spring Training you have the luxury of that happening even if you get thrown out at second.
“You’re trying to get these guys to be aggressive and understand those type of plays. That’s what I’m talking about when getting rid of that second instinct. The first instinct was right. The second instinct got you thrown out at first base instead of second base.”
DeJesus explained a bit more about what the Cubs were working on.
“[First-base coach Dave McKay] was like, ‘Focus on balls in the dirt,’” DeJesus said. “[He said], ‘Once the ball is in the dirt, get in the shuffle and go.’ We both had good jumps on it, but [A's catcher Kurt Suzuki] picked them both. We were working on something there. Kurt is a quality catcher. It was a great job by him.”
So, in other words, Sveum wants the guys to work on getting aggressive secondary leads, and taking off when the ball is in the dirt. Barney and DeJesus started to do that, decided they couldn’t make it, and got picked off by Suzuki.
Plausible, agreeable, acceptable. Generally speaking, it’s never OK to be picked off first by the catcher, but *if* it’s going to happen, here’s hoping it’s (1) in Spring Training, and (2) in service of getting better.