Dodgers outfield adjusts to the information age
Yasiel Puig thinks this could be the season he wins his first Gold Glove Award.
If he doesn’t, it won’t be because he spent part of the season in the minor leagues, as he did as a rookie. Or because he was moved from right field to center in the middle of the season, as was the case last year.
The most significant obstacle that remains is his drifting mind.
“I’m trying to fix that problem that I had of not concentrating,” the cannon-armed Cuban said in Spanish. “I’m prepared for every pitch. Maybe that’s what I need to win a Gold Glove.”
The Dodgers are counting on it. One of their priorities this season is to improve their outfield defense, a process they started by making rookie Joc Pederson their starting center fielder and moving Puig back to his natural position in right.
As the team enters a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies, management is encouraged. Puig, who is expected to return to the lineup after missing two games because of a sore left hamstring, has looked alert in right field. Pederson was flat-out spectacular in the most recent game, making a diving catch in right-center field and throwing out a runner at the plate on separate plays Wednesday in the Dodgers’ 5-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
“I think when you have a natural center fielder out there, I think that just makes everything a whole lot easier,” said third base coach Lorenzo Bundy, who oversees the outfield defense.
Information helps too.
“We got papers and numbers and charts now to where they tell us how to stand,” left fielder Carl Crawford said.
The statistics come from the new front office, which is headed by the team’s new president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman.
Manager Don Mattingly said Friedman’s group is providing coaches with more detailed information than their predecessors received, as it factors in who is pitching for the Dodgers, as well as counts.
Armed with this information, Bundy visits each of the outfielders and talks to them about how they should position themselves when certain hitters are at the plate.
“I like to do it as close to game time without affecting their pregame offensive preparation,” Bundy said.
Bundy is particularly impressed with Pederson’s ability to retain information, describing it as exceptional for a rookie.
For his part, Pederson said he embraces the use of statistics.
“Numbers don’t lie,” Pederson said. “It’s accurate. It’s pretty funny. Sometimes, they hit and you don’t even move, and you’re like, ‘Wow.’”
Bundy also praised the coachability of backup outfielders Scott Van Slyke and Andre Ethier.
Bundy pointed specifically to a play Van Slyke made Monday, when he threw out Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison as he attempted to stretch a single into a double. Morrison hit the ball toward the left-field corner but Van Slyke was able to cut it off because of his positioning before Brandon McCarthy delivered the pitch.
“If not, that’s a double,” Bundy said.
Even after the game starts, Bundy remains engaged.
“First time through, I just want to make sure they’re where they’re supposed to be,” he said. “I’m watching every pitch of every at-bat. Sometimes, they may forget or they’re maybe two steps here or two steps that way.”
If that happens, Bundy signals to them from the dugout.
“Everything starts with Joc,” Bundy said. “For the most part, he’s ready. If Joc’s in the right spot, then I can shift to Puig or I can shift to C.C.”
Sometimes, Bundy will call for adjustments in the middle of the game.
“If we’re out there and they feel like a hitter might be doing something different or he’s fouling the ball off a certain way, you’ll see him waving at us to move or rotate,” Crawford said.
Initially, Bundy admitted, Pederson made him nervous.
“Joc’s a fidgeter,” Bundy said. “After a pitch is made at home plate, he takes a walk. At first, everybody was worried if he would get back to the right spot. But he does. He gets back to where he needs to be.”
This was nothing new to Puig, who called Pederson “loco” — the Spanish word for crazy.
Puig and Pederson played alongside each other in Class A in 2012. They also started the following season together in double A.
“He’s always been in center and I’ve always been in right,” Puig said. “I like playing with him.”
Pederson said the feelings are mutual.
“We kind of have a feel for each other,” Pederson said.
Pederson can already see the change in Puig’s mind-set.
“He’s moving a lot,” Pederson said. “He’s definitely improving. He was already one of the better right fielders in the game. He’s positioning himself where we’re supposed to be positioned.”
Puig said he is making an effort to compartmentalize the offensive and defensive parts of the game, so that disappointment in one area doesn’t adversely affect the other.
“It would bother me when I didn’t hit,” Puig said. “It still bothers me, but I know I have to do something. If I don’t hit, I have to make up for it with my defense. If I don’t hit and I don’t field, the team loses me completely.”
Bundy said this is only the start. Puig is 24. Pederson turns 23 next week. They could be paired together in the outfield for several more seasons.
“This is the foundation for the future,” Bundy said.
Right-hander Carlos Frias was optioned to triple-A Oklahoma City. Frias was recalled for the series finale against the Mariners on Wednesday, but didn’t pitch.
Up next: Clayton Kershaw (0-1, 5.84 earned-run average) will face the Colorado Rockies and Kyle Kendrick (1-1, 6.00) at Dodger Stadium at 7 p.m. On the air: TV: SportsNet LA; Radio: 570, 1020.
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