Making sense of Royals' strange six-man outfield vs. Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

The Kansas City Royals are trying something new to keep Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera from getting on base.

Outfielders Alex Gordon, Brett Phillips and Jorge Soler stood on their usual spots, but third baseman Maikel Franco, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and second baseman Whit Merrifield joined them in the freshly cut grass.

Yes, that's six "outfielders." Nearly seven, actually, with first baseman Ryan O'Hearn standing on the edge of the infield.

“It’s something (where) we’re always going to try and figure out how we can gain a little more ground," Royals manager Mike Matheny said Monday, the first day the outfield shift was used.

The reasoning makes sense: Cabrera is 37 years old. He has dealt with numerous injuries, including a hamstring strain in 2018 and knee injury in 2019, combined with a ruptured tendon in his left biceps that held him to 38 games two seasons ago.

Plus, Cabera is career .305 hitter against Kansas City with 222 hits, 41 doubles, 28 home runs and 134 RBIs in 199 games. And a Triple Crown winner. And a two-time American League MVP. And still really good at what he does, even though he's off to a slow start this season (he's just 2-for-18 with one homer and two RBIs through five games).

A newly slim Miguel Cabrera warms up as the Detroit Tigers prepare for the shortened 2020 season. They opened workouts at Comerica Park Friday, July 3, 2020.

Cabrera showed up slimmer to spring training, but that doesn't mean he suddenly has found speed. The Royals are trying to take advantage of that.

[ Matthew Boyd trending up, Miguel Cabrera down but both needed if Detroit Tigers want to stun in 2020 ]

"That was interesting," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said Monday. "Miggy doesn't run as well. I'm sure they've done all of their homework like that, but when they were spread out like that, playing 5, 7, 10 yards deep on the grass, that actually looked like it had way more holes than he normally does.

"It would be entertaining to watch him hit one somewhere in the middle of that and them try to throw him out at first base. We were talking about that."

Well, that hasn't happened.

After a first-inning single Monday (without the outfield shift), Kansas City countered with its strange alignment. Since then, Cabrera is 0-for-6 with two walks and no strikeouts, including a ground out to (deep) second base on Tuesday.

Gardenhire questioned Matheny's decision before Tuesday's game: "What are they going to do if he bunts?" Too bad the third-year manager didn't give the bunt sign later that day; Cabrera finished 0-for-4. 

"Everybody's trying different things," Gardenhire said. "I didn't talk to our guys about that shift, but it's just playing the game according to the speed. You never know. Could make for entertainment."

Gardenhire on possible rule changes

The MLB Players Association reportedly is asking players to consider further rule changes for the 2020 season. The most notable is a 30-man roster for an additional period of time, meaning a few extra weeks or the entire 60-game season.

Right now, 30-man rosters drop to 28 after two weeks, and 26 two weeks after that. If the proposed changes are put in place, the extended 30-man limit would only be for 2020.

[ Detroit Tigers roster: Meet the 30-man squad, what they bring to the table ]

"The 30-man roster, I'm all for that," Gardenhire said Wednesday. "I've always said we should have had more than we had before because of the rigors of it, how many games you play. You need a bigger roster, and this protects players. You've got more maneuverability, and you can give guys a little bit of time off."

The other part of the proposal comes with making doubleheaders a nine-inning and seven-inning game or two seven-inning games.

"I like playing one game, nine innings," Gardenhire said. "I don't mind that. But if you're going to play a doubleheader, let me tell you, two nines, that's a lot of baseball. Long baseball days. When you play a doubleheader, that can knock your socks off for two or three days — if they don't go right.

"I'd like to stay away from that in this shorter season, but we'll follow whatever they want to throw out there. We've got plenty of people."

Agrazal to Toledo

Gardenhire said Wednesday the MRI on right-handed pitcher Dario Agrazal provided a clear answer to a right arm injury that landed him on the 10-day injured list Monday. The 25-year-old has forearm tendonitis and will head to Fifth Third Field in Toledo, where he'll rehab with members of the reserve squad.

"Said his elbow was hurting," Gardenhire said Monday. "He believed if he tried to pitch it would really not be good. So, obviously, make a move, get a pitcher here to help us out. Probably be an opener type thing tomorrow."

Agrazal was slated to start Tuesday's game, but 22-year-old Rony Garcia received the nod instead.  

[ What Detroit Tigers' Rule 5 draft pick Rony Garcia showed in his 'fantastic' debut ]

Agrazal last pitched July 21 against the Cincinnati Reds in an exhibition game, allowing three runs on two hits with one strikeout in three innings. 

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold