MLB managers try to move forward with ever-changing lineups
Jeff McNeil knows the stomach-dropping feeling of walking into the clubhouse, peeking at the day’s lineup, and being caught off guard when your name wasn’t there.
“Oh yeah, it definitely happened,” said the New York Mets All-Star infielder and outfielder.
Fortunately for him, it is an experience that the big leaguers live less and less. At a time when ball clubs value roster versatility like never before, communication between managers and players about who is playing – and in what position – has taken on greater importance.
“I tell them everything I know,” Mets first-year manager Buck Showalter said.
Part-timers Robinson Canó, Dominic Smith and JD Davis have full-time talents and resumes, but bringing them into the roster requires an almost constant reshuffle from Showalter. McNeil needs to know if he’s playing second base or left field, depending on whether Canó is heading for the keystone. Smith can spell Pete Alonso early, pushing the Polar Bear to the designated hitter. JD Davis plays left field and third base, which means he could move one of many teammates.
And with the designated hitter going universal this year, the National League club has another slot that needs to be filled every day. Showalter has already used seven players there.
Still, Mets players say there were no surprises from Showalter on game day.
“Most of the time you know exactly what’s going to happen before it happens,” substitute Luis Guillorme said. “You’re not ambushed with anything.”
Of course, there are limits to what a manager can chart. The Mets experienced this last week, when Nimmo and Canha were game decisions for several days in a row while on the COVID-19 injured list.
“If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans,” Showalter said. “I’m looking forward to things settling down at some point.”
Players say Showalter catches up with them in the clubhouse after games, or that plans will be communicated via messages on their phones each night, which also include reporting times and other schedule notes for the next day’s game .
“I want them to know everything so they don’t wonder or read something wondering if it’s absolutely true,” Showalter said.
It’s much the same across the city at Yankee Stadium, where manager Aaron Boone says the Bronx Bombers are setting their lineups farther than ever. New York started the season with five infielders for four spots – Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa – and Boone wants them to know their role on any given day before showing up. at work.
“I think they like it,” Boone said. “So far, we have communicated the lineup to them before the end of the night for the following day, and we will try to do so as much as possible.”
It’s not just about mental preparation either. Guillorme was a part-time player for five major league seasons, and he’s come up with different programs for when he’s playing and when he’s not playing.
“My routine will be much more toned down if I know I’m playing or not. If I know I’m not playing, if I’m in the role I usually am, I do a lot more things on the pitch before the game,” he said. “If that day I’m going to play, I lower my tone. I go through a regular just normal routine, because I don’t want to be tired at that time. So for me, when they warn me, yes, it helps me a lot.
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