Astros picking spots to bunt against shifts

Astros picking spots to bunt against shifts

MILWAUKEE -- Jason Castro's first hit of the season came in the second inning of the Astros' 6-4 win Saturday when he pushed a bunt single down the third-base line to beat the Brewers' infield shift, a strategy the Astros worked on in drills and games during Spring Training.

Depending on the situation, the Astros are encouraging left-handed hitters like Castro, Luis Valbuena and Colby Rasmus to try to bunt for a single. Rasmus attempted it as well Saturday, but didn't get the bunt down.

"The game situation dictates how often we're going to do it, but we are going to be active with that," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "If you're going to shift us and the game calls for a baserunner being more important than anything else, then we're going to factor that in. I'm proud of the guys for embracing that as a counter punch to the shift.

"We're a very a shiftable team and guys worry about us, especially our left-handed hitters pulling the ball, so the game preparation for the other side, the scouting report is going to say that we'll take the extra base when we need it, and I'm glad we're going to take it."

Teams routinely line the shortstop up on the right side of the infield against Rasmus, Castro and Valbuena and move the third baseman closer to second base. That leaves a big hole on the left side of the infield. Castro took advantage of it Saturday but said batters have to be committed to it.

"A couple of times in the spring I was kind of in between -- should I bunt, should I just swing? -- and then you're kind of in between," he said. "That makes it more difficult. Obviously, the most important thing is getting a good pitch to do it on. You can practice it all you want off a machine or just pitching and feel pretty confident about it, but it's completely different deal and look when you're doing it game speed and you don't know what's coming. I felt pretty good with it by the time we left spring as far as the mechanics of it, and yesterday going up there I saw where they were playing."

Hinch said the Astros have a deep enough lineup to where he's comfortable having one of his players, even guys with power like Valbuena and Rasmus, bunt on occasion.

"That's one of the benefits of having a long lineup where we can do damage from top to bottom," he said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.