NEW YORK – The smallest moves can have a surprisingly cascading effect. Eddie Rosario stumbled around first base while trying to stretch a single into a double in late June, and as a result, he finds himself in right field at Yankee Stadium more than three months later.
Rosario, exclusively a left fielder until September, when infielder Luis Arraez began to get work in the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup, started each of the first two games in the American League Division Series standing in front of the short porch in Yankee Stadium. While Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said there were several factors that went into that decision, the genesis appears to be that months-ago misstep in Target Field.
“Rosie has been playing through some things in the second half of the season, and it affected his ability to cover” ground in the outfield, Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said before Saturday’s game. “He’s not moving around quite as well as he did at the beginning of the year, ever since that ankle” injury on June 26, which put him on the injured list for 13 games.
The difference isn’t a huge one, but in looking for every edge they could find, the Twins in mid-September began considering how Yankee Stadium might impact their defense.
“There’s more ground to cover in left field than right. Speed comes into play more out there,” Falvey said. “We realized if [Rosario] hasn’t moved around great in the second half, we could use our flexibility” to improve the defense.
That meant Marwin Gonzalez played left field during Game 1, and when Gonzalez moved to first base for Game 2, Jake Cave, who has started only eight games in left during his career (compared to 43 in right), played the position Saturday.
“I can play all three,” shrugged Rosario, who is likely to return to his usual spot in left when the series shifts to Target Field. “They gave me games out there [in right], so it’s no big deal.”
Indeed, Rosario’s lone shift to right that wasn’t forced by Arraez in the outfield came last Saturday in Kansas City, once it was apparent that the Yankees would be the Twins’ ALDS opponent. “That was always in the back of our minds — Yankee Stadium, the difference there,” Falvey said. “He was prepared for it.”
“Rosie’s arm plays well in right field, too,” Baldelli said. “There wasn’t just one reason for it.”
Now the Twins hope that Rosario’s bat perks up as well. Rosario is a streaky hitter, and never really got hot in September. He finished the season going 6-for-28, and while five of the six hits were for extra bases, “it’s been tough,” he said. Having five days off before the playoffs started didn’t help, either, and Rosario went 0-for-5 in Game 1, though he was robbed of a hit by Aaron Judge’s diving catch, and 1-for-4 Saturday, striking out twice in Game 2.
“So many days off, it’s hard to feel the same right away,” Rosario said. “After two at-bats, I feel good again. I hit a couple line drives, but … diving catch. What can I do?”