Sandy Leon Makes Case for Himself on Opening Day
He gave the shift the shaft. While everyone’s talking about Andrew Benintendi on Opening Day, his huge three-run homer might not have even happened if not for the unheralded Sandy Leon.
The catcher-of-the-day, the ninth man in the order, set the possibility of a Benintendi knockout in motion with a well-placed bunt. The Pirates infield put on an ever-fashionable defensive shift against Leon. It’s where a team will put move the shortstop to the right side of the field against left-handed hitters who tend to pull the ball. It has worked well against the likes of David Ortiz, for example. The only problem, it leaves the left side of the infield practically uncovered.
This time, the shift was the Pirates’ downfall. Leon dropped a bunt into uncovered territory in front of third base. This left Pirates pitcher Garrit Cole to chase–and bobble–the ball by himself.
“I loved what Sandy did,”said Mookie Betts. “Even with two outs you can get something going. [Cole] was pitching great and we found a way to get to him.”
A good bunt is rare enough in the game today, especially in the AL. Of the top ten bunting teams in MLB, nine of them are National League. But a ball dribbled to a practically defenseless pitcher, coupled with a good hustle to first, is the perfect move for a catcher, in catching tradition, with a questionable batting ability.
Leon was also dynamic behind the plate on Monday. In the top of the second, with David Freese at the plate, Leon fired the ball to second and nipped Gregory Polanco’s attempted steal.
Leon’s Opening Day could arguably be day one of a case made for himself. With Christian Vasquez back and healthy, and with Blake Swihart developing in Pawtucket, Leon is wise to seize the opportunity.
Right now, the roles of Leon and Vasquez are not clear-cut. Leon is still the preferred batterymate to Rick Porcello, who had a 2.52 ERA with Leon in 2016 and took the win on Monday.
Neither catcher had a particularly electric spring either, both batting below the Mendoza line (sub .200) in Florida. If Leon continues what he started on Opening Day, the debate between the two might just lean a little heavier to one side.
Sandy Leon will catch for Chris Sale tonight against the Pirates. Gametime is 7:05 pm.