Marcus Semien’s defense stands out in A’s 2-1 win over White Sox

Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 7:00 PM

After Adam Eaton’s leadoff single in the eighth inning, the A’s shifted their infield over for Jimmy Rollins’ at-bat against right-hander John Axford.

Marcus Semien’s defense stands out in A’s 2-1 win over White Sox

Marcus Semien had a active night at shortstop in the A’s 2-1 win over the White Sox on Wednesday, but for arguably the most critical play he made he was lined up on the other side of the infield.

After Adam Eaton’s leadoff single in the eighth inning, the A’s shifted their infield over for Jimmy Rollins’ at-bat against right-hander John Axford. Second baseman Jed Lowrie moved into shallow right field and Semien positioned himself to the right of second base, just behind the bag.

The strategy worked as Rollins hit a unhurried chopper up the center that Semien was able to field, then step on second base and toss to first for a double play, erasing the potential tying run.

"That’s Wash," Semien said, meaning infield coach Ron Washington. "We decided after the first game to shift Rollins. I haven’t really seen him play much, so I don’t know how much he hits the ball to the opposite field. But it was a good decision."

A see at Rollins’ , courtesy of Brooks Baseball, shows that Rollins did indeed hit into a large cluster of outs on the right side of the infield against right-handed pitching. This ball was more up the middle, and Semien said he thought that Lowrie might've been able to field it'd the A’s played straight-up. But because it was hit softly, they mightn't have had as excellent a chance at turning the double play.

“Like I said, Wash positions us and we adhere to our shifts and create the pitches,” Semien said. “It’s crazy how those shifts work out. You think they’re kind of funky, but most of the time they’re pretty accurate.”

As it was, Semien still had to exhibit some nifty footwork getting to the bag and then side-stepping the slide of Eaton, a quick runner, while making his throw.

"Adam comes in hard," Semien said. "I know, I played with Adam. That’s the way I was taught to play the game coming up with the Sox, too -- create it tough on the infielder to turn it. I just tried to toss it and obtain out of the way as fast as I could."

Semien’s accurate toss helped Axford and the A’s work out of a jam, though manager Bob Melvin well-known that Axford kept the double play intact by shortening his delivery and not giving Eaton a chance to steal second.

"There was a time when he'd trouble slide-stepping and being fast to the plate," said Melvin. "He had a couple base-runners on that he needed to be fast to the plate to keep the running game down."

Jose Abreu’s two-out single again keep the tying running on against Axford. But Semien made another kind play on Todd Frazier’s broken-bat one-hopper by going to his backhand and slinging a toss to second for an inning-ending fielder’s choice.

"That might be as excellent a (defensive) game as we’ve seen him play," Melvin said of Semien, who led the majors latest season with thirty-five errors. "He looked genuine confident throwing the ball today, went into the hole a couple of times. That’s what it’s going to get to win those types of games. We can’t give extra outs."

Semien’s work with WA on bettering his defense has been well-chronicled and it was notable where he found room for improvement Wednesday night. Eaton’s single to lead off the eighth came on a sharp grounder that Semien backhanded in the hole before making an accurate toss to first. Eaton was called secure on a bang-bang play, and the call was upheld after a video review.

"I wish we would’ve had the one on Eaton," Semien said. "That was close. Maybe if he calls him out and they go to replay, it stays for us.

"Besides that, I was pleased with it."

Powerful arms -- A stomach illness kept Gray from making his scheduled start on Opening Night. Instead, he took the mound Wednesday trying to play stopper after the A’s began the season with consecutive one-run losses.

"It was a large game for us," Gray said.

Gray responded with seven innings, holding the White Sox to one run -- scored on a Rollins sacrifice fly in the third -- and three hits. He admitted he didn't have his best stuff Wednesday and said he threw more off-speed pitches than normal because his fastball command was shaky.

"He was right at the finish of his rope there toward the end," Melvin said. "You could look he was dragging a tiny bit (in the seventh), taking a small longer between pitches.

"I think it took a small out of him, what happened the other day. But he stepped up."

Closer Sean Doolittle was unavailable after pitching in each of the first two games, so Melvin brought in Axford for the eighth inning and Ryan Madson for the rescue chance. Both pitched around leadoff singles. With two outs in the ninth, Madson went to a full count against Alex Avila and threw a changeup to induce a swinging third strike.

"You could tell just watching them, they’ve been around and they know how to pitch late in games," Gray said of the relievers, both new to the A’s this season. "They create large pitches when they need to."

Madson, meanwhile, was impressed with his first time watching Gray as a teammate.

"He’s so polished, it’s crazy," Madson said. "He reminds me kind of love a right-handed Cliff Lee, where it’s just pounding the strike zone, genuine aggressive in the strike zone throughout the whole game. That’s tough to do as a starter. It’s really fun to watch."

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