When Twins designated hitter Logan Morrison stepped to the plate in the second inning on Monday against Houston, he was looking to finally do some damage after a slow start to the season.
And the Astros were waiting for him with what could be a new trend in the major leagues.
Houston sent third baseman Alex Bregman into the outfield to employ a four-man unit. That left three infielders, all on the right side of the diamond.
This is being seen as the best way to defend hitters like Morrison, who smacked a career-high 38 home runs last season partly because he increased the launch angle of his swing.
As hitters look to elevate the ball, teams are looking for countermeasures.
“A four-man outfield,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said, “was just a matter of time.”
Houston tested the formation against Washington’s Matt Adams during spring training and then employed it against Texas’ Joey Gallo during the opening week. Other teams are expected to follow.
The mind tricks alone could have an effect that could benefit the defense. A few possibilities:
• The batter could give in and settle on slapping the ball to the opposite field. That’s a win for the defense, because it avoids a home run.
• The batter could bunt. Another victory for the defense. How many beefy, burly sluggers can bunt?
• The batter could try even harder to clear the defense with a home run, leading to failure.
“I try not to pay attention to it because they shift me all the time anyway,” Morrison said. “I know the bunt is there, but I kind of want to hit it over the four-man outfield.”
Is it a challenge?
“Sure. I think it is more of a respect thing, I’m not going to hit a ground ball. I don’t want to hit a ground ball.
“They are daring me to bunt, no doubt.”
Morrison struck out against that alignment Monday.
Molitor said that coach Jeff Pickler suggested using a four-man outfield a few times last season against hitters like Morrison.
And Molitor said that he’s willing to use it this season when the time is right.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” he said. “When a double is going to hurt you more than a single and it’s the right situation and score.
“It’s a little tougher with a righthanded hitter obviously because you have to keep someone over there to cover first.”
Don’t forget about the pitchers, who will turn to check the defense, see four outfielders and a wide-open infield before taking a deep breath and hoping they execute their pitches.
“I’d like to go to four outfielders,” righthander Kyle Gibson said, “and five infielders. Let’s get more defensive guys out there.”
That’s a pace-of-play issue. And an issue to be tackled another day.
Cleveland: The Indians left their bats at spring training in Arizona. They scored just 36 runs over their first 12 games, and their .170 team batting average was the lowest in baseball. Yonder Alonso leads the regulars with a .184 average.
Kansas City: With catcher Salvador Perez recovering from a left knee sprain, former Twin Drew Butera (right) has gotten more chances to play with Cam Gallagher backing him up. If an emergency catcher is needed, manager Ned Yost would turn to third baseman Mike Moustakas, who played all over the field in high school.
Detroit: It was a tough way to find out, but pitcher Jordan Zimmerman (right) will never break his jaw again. He was hit with a line drive there Wednesday but suffered only a contusion. “The first time I broke it, they put a couple plates in there and the doc told me back in college, ‘You’ll never break it again,’ ” he said. “So, we put it to the test tonight and everything came back fine.”
Chicago: Reliever Bruce Rondon is getting a second chance with the White Sox. Rondon was once a highly touted prospect with the Tigers with a fastball that reached triple digits, but his weight and work habits came into question. He was non-tendered by Detroit during the offseason, signed a minor league deal with the White Sox and was called up last week.
The 3-2 pitch
Three observations …
• Both Arizona manager Torey Lovullo and St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina should have been suspended for more than one game for their confrontation on Tuesday that led to the benches clearing.
• Two weeks into the season and Shohei Ohtani has proved me wrong. He has blasted three home runs and has thrown 100-mph fastballs. Show-Tani is ready for prime time.
• The Mets are off to a roaring start, and it can continue if their talented rotation can stay off the disabled list. And that is asking a lot.
… and two predictions
• Brian Dozier will top the 40-home run mark for the second time in his career.
• The Reds won’t play sub-. 200 ball all season — that’s 32 wins after all — but a .350 winning percentage seems reasonable.
Baseball reporters La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller will alternate weeks • firstname.lastname@example.org • Twins blogs: startribune.com/twins