Hillman wants shallow outfield
Players agree with manager's aggressive approach
PHOENIX -- Joey Gathright had no objections to it. Then again, he would be hard-pressed to ignore the logic behind Royals manager Trey Hillman's decision.
Tired of seeing balls drop in front of his outfielders, Hillman told them to move in three or four steps. Sunday was the first day the Royals did so, and Hillman's outfielders continued to play shallower on Monday.
But it didn't bother the speedy Gathright a bit.
"I'm used to playing shallow," he said before Monday's game. "But, yesterday, the wind was howling, so you had to make adjustments."
It was before the game on Sunday in Surprise, Ariz., that Hillman and his coaches explained to their players the reasoning behind the strategy, and Hillman took on the task of outlining all of it for pitchers and catchers.
"I explained it to the pitchers and catchers: 'Fellows, we're trying to win games. This is not something I'm doing haphazardly,'" Hillman said.
Hillman said he used the same strategy when he managed in Japan, and his reasoning was that a well-hit ball was going to go over an outfielder's head anyway. But why let the dinks drop in for singles if playing in a few more steps will allow an outfielder to track the ball down?
Mark Teahen, who started in left field on Day 1 of the move, didn't see it as a huge adjustment for him. He's new to left field anyway, he said. He's still trying to figure out what approach to playing the position best suits his skills.
"I didn't get burned over my head at all," Teahen said. "And [Ross] Gload made a good catch, because he was playing shallow in right."
Teahen said he didn't try to overanalyze the idea.
"I said, 'All right, let's roll with it,'" he said. "In a way, there's a point to it, because most balls hit over your head are going to go for a double anyway."
Hillman said he's not married to the idea. It'll be put under scrutiny in the remaining games in the Cactus League season to see if it might help the Royals win. Considering the grassy expanse of the outfield in Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, shallow might be better there than playing deep.
"It does make some sense," said Teahen, who was in left field for Day 2 of Hillman's strategy. "Until it starts burning us, I think we're fine with it."
"I think it is a good thing if it can cut off some of those bloop singles," he said. "If we can limit that, I think we'll be OK. It'll help us out defensively and keep them from scoring runs."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.