Padres MLN: A lesson learned

Infield instructor Gary Jones

Peoria, AZ-- Fielding is often the difference between winning and losing and the Low-A club – made up by a majority of players who were in the Arizona Rookie League last year, found that out the hard way on Sunday morning.

"There are 14 routine plays," infield instructor Gary Jones explained to the prospects. "You have to make them all."

And therein was the challenge.

Gary Jones at the plate – hit the ball to all areas of the field in all sorts of situations and the fielders had to execute the plays based on what Jones called out – men on base, two outs, the bases empty, no one on base, backup each fielder, choose the right base, make the right calls.

Sounds easy – but not for this squad. The count made it to 13 several times but when a botched play occurred the counter returned to zero – the drill begins anew.

Ray Stokes was one of the first to fail – he called out "ball, ball, ball!" to catch a pop fly instead of the universal "got it, got it, got it!" That led to a reset. Stokes would be on the money the rest of the way.

The defense executed another round to perfection – until unlucky number 14. The outfield made the right calls on their throws and the relay was slightly high to third base where Jorge Rodriguez' corral would have ended the session and started batting practice. It tipped off his glove and Jones called out "Zero!"

The next round went smooth again, and Jones even gave them two points for executing one tough play. With 13 in the bank, the scenario was depicted – ‘Runners on first and second, nobody out, bottom of the ninth on the road with a one run lead.'

The bunt was laid down. Third base called. Chris Perez got the rock, wheeled and threw. Wide of the mark. Zero.

They redid the play when they put 13 on the board in the next round and Jon Kirby ended the madness with a perfect throw to third base.

Justin Mattison backs up a throw during fielding practice.
There was much rejoicing – but it was tempered by Jones and Bill Bryk who met the players at the mound to discuss the session.

"You guys are joking around but the truth is you make one play on defense and you win a game," Jones said. "When it is August and the effects of a long season can be felt, and the ball is hit down the left field line, there can never be a mental lapse. That mental lapse is the difference between winning and a losing record.

"Playing defensive is important – more important than hitting."

"We have to be able to learn from our mistakes," Bryk said.

And his reference was to multiple bunt plays that went awry during the session. "Understand the situation," Jones added. "Give the effort – we can deal with mistakes and learn but you have to give the effort and we will never question that."

MadFriars Mash:

Felix Carrasco took a ground ball off his right wrist and was fitted with a soft cast. He is day-to-day.

Luis Durango was back hitting, showing no ill-effects from the hand injury from the day before.

On the defensive front, Nick Hundley has flashed a strong, accurate arm. He had pinpoint control on two straight stolen base attempts, hitting the glove with precision so the fielder did not have to move it an inch to get the runner. His footwork is improved from last year and he is setting himself up well for the throws – which have been strong and accurate all spring.

Brandon Gottier was 1-for-2 in catching basestealers. He showed an accurate arm but was slow in his explosion out of the crouch on the initial attempt and his throw arrived accurate but late. He quickened the pace on the next attempt and got the baserunner.

Both teams playing on Sunday had runners in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth but were unable to get them across. Chase Headley dropped down a bunt with two on and no outs – but both were stranded. Headley missed badly on his first bunt attempt, flailing wildly at a pitch.

The bench joked with him afterwards, "When was the last time you had to lay down a sacrifice?" It has likely been a long time for Headley, especially the way he has been swinging the bat this spring.

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