Indians to employ more shifts to shore up defense

Indians to employ more shifts to shore up defense

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- At some point during a Cactus League game this spring, the Indians' infielders will likely move into a dramatic defensive shift. Cleveland may even test out the strategy with a batter in the box who is not typically faced with that kind of alignment.

During Wednesday's workout, Indians bench coach Brad Mills said the team plans on doing everything it can this spring to simulate shift situations and prepare for the unexpected. The idea behind it is to help players develop another layer of reactionary decision-making in real time.

"Everybody's doing shifts more," Mills said. "So, those are the types of things we're going to have to at least introduce them to, and then we'll see what happens. The only way we're going to learn is by trying it."

During the first couple of days of full-squad workouts, the Indians have gone through aggressive infield drills, including Mills' signature rapid-fire PFP (pitchers' fielding practice). Mills said the team will likely begin mixing in shift scenarios by this weekend, when cut-off drills and relays will be added to the to-do list for the morning workouts.

The Indians led the Majors with 116 errors last season and the team has tried to find ways to tweak its practice habits this spring. Cleveland believes that working more on defensive plays with a shift on -- something that is a common part of the regular season these days -- is an important element to add to the Spring Training program.

"We'll set the guys up in the shift and then hit a ball over the center fielder's head, for example," Mills said. "[Then it's], 'OK, how are we going to line up?' Because it's something different that we haven't done before. Let's say David Ortiz is hitting and we're setting up in the shift, or Brian McCann, and all of a sudden he hits the ball to left-center. How are guys going to rotate to get out there? That's difficult."

Mills said they will also try to simulate bloop fly balls to left-center when the shift is in play.

"[The third baseman] is going to have to go for that ball. He might catch it," Mills explained. "Well, if he doesn't catch it, we have nobody at third base, so now the pitcher is going to have to cover. That's something pitchers never had to do before."

Mills said it will be important to practice the shift during Cactus League games, too.

"We're going to have to put guys in shifts in Spring Training," Mills said. "We might be shifting some guys that don't need to be shifted, just to simulate and hope the guy does hit one [where we need to work on it]. We're just going to have to get into it, because we're trying to defend."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.