When Aaron Hicks lined a two-out single to right in the fifth inning Friday night, Ron Gardenhire flashed the green light: Steal second base if you can. Only problem was, pitcher Justin Grimm had an unusually fast windup that made a normal stolen base unlikely.
So Hicks resorted to a play not frequently used in the major leagues: the delayed steal.
“We worked on doing that in spring training, but that was a great time to break it out. A heads-up play,” Gardenhire said. “[Grimm] was going really quick to home ... so he was looking at the infielders, seeing if they were dropping their heads, which they did.”
So Hicks waited a couple of pitches, then took a couple of “crow hops” toward second base after Grimm’s third pitch. When no infielder moved toward the bag, he darted for second.
“The guy was like 1.1, 1.15 [seconds to wind up], so you’re not going to steal. So I tried to take advantage of [the batter, Pedro] Florimon being a lefthanded hitter, and catch them asleep a little bit,” Hicks said. Florimon blocked catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s view, making it unlikely that he would try a pickoff move, giving Hicks an even better chance.
It worked. Hicks was safe, and shortstop Elvis Andrus was late to the base, so Pierzynski’s throw bounced into center field, allowing Hicks to take third.
Even Rangers manager Ron Washington was impressed by the play. If not with his team’s reaction to it.
“I like the delayed steal, especially when you can catch two infielders not backing up [the base]. Whenever there’s a runner on first base and there’s no action at home plate, both infielders are supposed to [move] toward second base,” Washington said. “We didn’t do it, and that’s why the ball ended up in center field. I’m constantly [preaching], ‘Back it up, back it up.’ And we got caught.”
Trevor Plouffe is going to get a refresher course at third base, his manager said Saturday, after a couple of misplays on Friday. Most bothersome, Gardenhire said, was a hard ground ball that Plouffe allowed to get under his glove. It took a bad hop, Gardenhire conceded, but had Plouffe played the ball more aggressively, that might not have mattered.
“He just didn’t attack it. He stepped back. ... He’s just not attacking enough right now,” Gardenhire said after putting Eduardo Escobar in Plouffe’s spot in the lineup Saturday. “I’ve talked to Scott [Ullger, who coaches the infielders] about that — we’ve got to go back to our soft-toss drills and get him attacking again. He’s going back too much.”
• Miguel Sano’s nine home runs, which lead the minor leagues, have gotten plenty of attention. But General Manager Terry Ryan said he’s particularly encouraged by the reports he’s getting on the 19-year-old prospect’s defense. Sano, the Class A third baseman, committed 42 errors at Beloit last year but has only four so far this month. “His game is coming along,” Ryan said. “He’s got hands, he’s got a rifle for an arm, he’s got lateral movement. He still thinks he should be at short, which is a good thing. He’s doing fine.”