Rays closer Sergio Romo played third base on Wednesday, for one batter, to open up the ninth inning of a one-run game. It was something Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash had tried before, and it ended without disaster.
Today’s particular situation had the Rays up 3-1 on the Yankees in the top of the eighth, with runners on the corners and one out. Romo came in for what looked to be a five-out save. After Giancarlo Stanton added a run on a sacrifice fly, Romo struck out the next batter, Gleyber Torres, to end the inning.
For the bottom of the next inning, Cash had to choose: Leave Romo in to face a full slate, take him out entirely, or do some unconventional shit. He chose the third option and started the inning with Romo at third base. That way, reliever Jonny Venters could pitch to Greg Bird in a lefty-lefty matchup. Romo, who was the only position player on the entire left side of the infield, saw nothing hit his way. Bird grounded out to second base after four pitches.
Romo came back to the mound to secure the last two outs of the game and earned his 12th save of the season with ease.
This type of platooning has been done before, notably by Cubs skipper Joe Maddon, but typically it’s for corner outfielder positions, not the potentially volatile third base. But Bird’s spray chart this season shows his tendencies: He’s hit a whopping three grounders to the left side of the infield.
This strategy isn’t new for the Rays, who have done all kinds of experiments with their pitchers, including the time in May when they started Romo in two straight games against the Angels. The right-handed Romo took on the first three batters of the Angels’ formidable—but right-handed heavy—offensive core, then was subbed out. He allowed just two walks and no hits over those 2.1 innings.
The last time Cash pulled this pitcher-infield switcharoo, though, was in a June 26 interleague game against the Nationals. In that game, the Rays were also up one headed into the ninth. Reliever Jose Alvarado took the hill to start the inning and gave up a walk to Bryce Harper to lead off. Then, Alvarado switched to first base.
Next to the plate was Anthony Rendon—also a fly-ball hitter, like Bird. The Nats infielder almost never hits the ball to first.
Rendon struck out, although Alvarado wasn’t the one to finish the game. Romo came in after his predecessor faced three left-handed batters without recording an out, but the Rays still won, 1-0.
In both cases, Cash used the opposing hitters’ tendencies to inform his decision on how to make the most of his relievers. Not only did the strategy produce a bizarre box score, but it was successful. Given that the Rays traded pitcher Nathan Eovaldi to the Red Sox today, and Chris Archer is currently the team’s only traditional starter, Cash might have to resort to more tactics like this just to get through the rest of the season.