ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Call him Chase Headley, shift-beater.
The switch hitter had three singles while batting lefthanded Sunday in the Yankees’ 7-3 loss to the Rays on Opening Day. All three beat the shift, including a perfectly placed bunt in the seventh inning, when the Yankees desperately needed baserunners and the third-base side was wide open.
The other times, Headley grounded balls to the right of overshifted third baseman Evan Longoria and down the leftfield line. It was as if his bat were a magic wand.
Now, we know a lot of you scream at your TVs when players don’t take the easy singles to the opposite field that teams seem willing to give them in this era of mega-shifting. But the truth, Headley said, is he wasn’t really trying to do that in the ninth inning. It just happened.
“I’m a better hitter when I use the entire field,” he said. “I’m not saying I was trying to hit ground balls today, but the way they were pitching me, I changed my approach a little bit and was trying to hit the ball over there and find a couple of holes. The last one was just a mistake.”
Headley said the Rays were throwing him a lot of off-speed stuff and that his plan was to stay back as long as possible before swinging.
“There’s times when teams pitch you where you’re able to do what I was doing today,” he said. “There’s other times where it’s pretty tough. I definitely want to take what they give me, but I’m not going to try to shoot ground balls over there all the time. It just happened to be the way that they were pitching me today.”
As for the bunt, that was something Headley worked on in spring training. That was not an accident.
“I wanted to work on my bunting some so I could hopefully defend against the shift a little bit,” he said. “I want to be able to get a bunt down to hopefully make the guys stand a little bit closer to where they’re supposed to.”
Headley and Starlin Castro each went 3-for-4, but the Yankees produced only three other hits. Manager Joe Girardi keeps saying they need more production from their veterans and can’t just rely on youngsters Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge.
Said Headley: “I think everybody needs to do their job and I think that’s how everybody feels. I know as a veteran and I know the other guys, they want to carry the weight and take some pressure off these young guys. But make no mistake, those guys are going to be a big part of our lineup.”