The late-season mystery of Omar Infante
While Jim Leyland was waiting in his office Monday morning for word on Austin Jackson, he admitted he briefly considered a different idea to fill his outfield for their critical game against the White Sox. Without Jackson, he at least thought about moving second baseman Omar Infante to left field and starting Danny Worth at second base. He soon decided against it, he said, because he didn’t think it would be fair asking Infante to play in the outfield for the first time in two years.
Given Infante’s remarks after Monday’s 5-4 loss to the White Sox, it’s fair to wonder how much confidence he has playing second right now.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Infante said. “I practice a lot during BP. I do everything — double plays, throws to first base. I don’t know what happened, because last year I played way different. When I’ve been here in Detroit, I don’t know. … I’ve been a little tight. I know the team is competing in the division. I don’t have an excuse. I have to do the little things.”
This is not an attempt to make Infante the scapegoat for the Tigers’ failure to take back the division race. Heck, it’s really not even fair to pin all the blame on him for Monday’s loss. Though it was Infante’s error that brought in the deciding run in the fifth inning, it was Prince Fielder’s decision whether to try to scoop it and make a do-or-die play for the third out or maybe sacrifice the out and make sure to stop the ball. He went with the do-or-die play and, well, you know what happened.
More than anything, it’s an acknowledgement of what has become apparent: Infante looks like a different, less certain defender over the last few weeks than the confident player who returned to his old organization from Miami in late July. It’s not as simple as the error sheet.
“I don’t know why, but I’m a little tight,” Infante said. “I’ve made a lot of errors. I don’t care if I make errors if the team does everything. If I make errors and the team wins, I feel good. But when we don’t win, I feel bad for that.”
Infante made three errors in his first eight games after the trade, but settled down after that, looking like by far the best everyday second baseman the Tigers had since they parted ways with Placido Polanco three years ago.
Then came an August 24 game against the Angels at Comerica Park, a 2-1 Tigers loss decided on a sixth-inning, two-out, two-run double from Howard Kendrick. He came to bat only after Torii Hunter executed a brilliant take-out slide on Infante at second, forcing his double-play throw to sail high and force Prince Fielder off the bag.
Infante didn’t get an error; you can’t assume the double play. Still, he beat himself up pretty bad afterwards, looking at the video and saying his throw was headed high before Hunter made impact with him.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I have to practice for the double play.”
Infante has four errors since, but more importantly, he has nine double plays, just four of them. He has three errors and five double plays in September. The low double-play totals are hurting the Tigers as much or more than the errors lately. It really hurt them over the weekend in Cleveland, including at least a couple on Sunday.
“When I go to throw to first base, that’s it, Infante said. “I think that’s it, the throw to first base when it’s a tight play.”
After Hunter flipped Infante, one of the comments from Infante was that he needed to step across the bag to get that ball from Miguel Cabrera and get out of the way of a sliding baserunner. On Monday, it looked like Infante not only stepped right into the path of Alex Rios, but stepped forward, allowing Rios to take him out with a good slide into his front leg.
None of this suggests Infante is the poster child for the Tigers’ defensive woes, even though he has looked like it lately. It doesn’t even suggest Danny Worth should be starting in his play. For every Infante error, there seems to be a acrobatic field and throw. On Monday, the stellar play up the middle followed the error.