Versatility enables Maddon to think outside the box

Versatility enables Maddon to think outside the box

CINCINNATI -- Tuesday night's unorthodox extra-innings managerial decisions from Joe Maddon were made possible by Travis Wood's versatility in a 7-2 win over the Reds.

As a good hitter for a pitcher and a solid athlete, Wood deepened Maddon's bench and it resulted in one of the more memorable series of managerial decisions in a long time as Wood both pitched and played left field. Maddon called it "the Travis Wood show."

But while the use of Wood will stick out because of the atypical nature of it, versatility is something that has defined Maddon-led teams throughout his managerial career. Maddon made Ben Zobrist an All-Star utility man in Tampa Bay. In Monday's historic offensive performance, third baseman Kris Bryant played three positions. Catcher Willson Contreras has played two positions over the weekend and has played some first base this season as well, and on Wednesday, Javier Baez started at second base, his third defensive position in as many days.

In a way, versatility is the mechanism behind Maddon's madness.

"You like to do different things," Maddon said. "Some of it's not as obvious to you until you actually get in the moment, the game's in progress, you're thinking different things. All of a sudden, other items start making more sense."

Contreras might be the most impressive of it all. Coming up from Triple-A Iowa due to a rash of injuries, he's been able to adjust despite having 21 games at first and 24 games in the outfield in eight Minor League seasons. He's done it all while hitting .355/.459/.677 entering Wednesday.

"First Rizz gets his back tightened up, [and Contreras] plays first base fine," Maddon said. "And then you see him swinging the bat and he's got to play. There's no DH, so we put him in left field. Again, [Jorge] Soler's out, [Tommy] La Stella's out, a lot of guys are out. Put him in left field. He's played well there, too."

There's a convention around baseball that the moving around, especially in-game, could affect guys at the plate. Maddon dismissed that after Bryant's performance Monday. Baez actually said it keeps him on his toes and allows him to relax.

"For me, it's relaxing playing other positions," Baez said. "It gets my mind right and relaxed and not worried as much about offense."

Defensively, the hardest part is moving from the outfield to the infield, Bryant said, because of the change in the game speed. After doing it in the 2015 Wild Card Game, he's a lot more comfortable though.

"Going from outfield to infield, it speeds up a little bit," Bryant said. "You've got to really sharpen your focus. That's kind of what I've noticed. I noticed that in the Wild Card Game when I went from left field to third base. I was pretty nervous in that moment and then getting the first two balls hit to me at third. It's extremely tough, but now that I've done it a couple times, I'm used to it."

Worth noting
• Soler, who has a strained hamstring, has been running and taking batting practice in Cincinnati over the last couple of days. Maddon said that he's ready to sit down and start planning out a rehab assignment schedule for Soler, although he will travel with the team to New York.

• La Stella, who also has a strained hamstring, is close to returning to the Major League roster, but he will play at least one more game with Triple-A Iowa with an off-day for the team on Wednesday. Maddon said it is possible, but not certain, that La Stella could return to the team during the Mets series.

Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.