PHOENIX — There is shifting, and there is what the Arizona Diamondbacks do against Colorado Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu, the defending NL batting champion.
The Diamondbacks often play LeMahieu as if left field were closed.
They broke out their drastic defensive strategy again with two outs in the eighth inning Monday after using it extensively in a three-game series at Coors Field over Labor Day weekend.
In the unconventional alignment, left fielder David Peralta moves to right-center field, between center fielder A.J. Pollock and right fielder J.D. Martinez. Pollock plays straightaway in center, and Peralta’s presence enables Martinez to move deeper and more toward the line. There is no outfielder on the left side of the diamond.
It nearly worked Monday.
In the eighth inning, LeMahieu hit the ball exactly where the Diamondbacks were playing him, into the teeth of that outfield defense, but he hit it so well that there was nothing the they could do about it. Martinez leaped but could not catch LeMahieu’s long drive to the fence in the right field corner, and LeMahieu was aboard with a triple.
Two batters later, Colorado won the first game of the series when Nolan Arenado hit a three-run homer after a walk to Carlos Gonzalez, breaking a 2-2 tie and leading the Rockies to a 5-4 victory.
Colorado right-hander Jon Gray (7-4, 4.07 ERA) is to face Arizona right-hander Taijuan Walker (9-7, 3.33 ERA) in the second game of the four-game series. The Rockies have won five in a row and seven of eight since being swept by the Diamondbacks at Coors Field from Sept. 1-3.
“It is really good to continue what we were doing in that run,” LeMahieu said.
His approach against the shift is pretty simple.
“I just try to block it all out and hit the ball hard,” said LeMahieu, who his batting .317 with 28 doubles, seven homers and 60 RBIs from the No. 2 spot in the order behind MVP candidate Charlie Blackmon. “If they are there, they are there, and hopefully they are not.
“I thought it was over his head. I thought it might have a chance to get out. Just trying to get on base, keep rallies going, do my part.”
Arizona (83-61) is four games ahead of Colorado (79-65) in the NL wild-card race, a lead built when the Diamondbacks won 13 straight, gaining ground with two three-game sweeps of the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers and one of the Rockies.
Colorado swept a four-game series against the Dodgers over the weekend. After their win Monday, the Rockies are 3 1/2 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild-card spot.
“I think these last couple of wins have been really good for us,” LeMahieu said. “We kind of got it handed to us for a week or two but battled back and have won some really close games on the road. We just need to keep it going.”
Arizona has lost three of four since a franchise-record winning streak.
“Good game, good atmosphere, just unfortunately we came up on the short end of things,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said of the Monday defeat. “We know the importance of every one of them. This was another intense game, but we have been ramping it up for the past month.”
Gray is 4-2 with a 2.55 ERA in his past seven starts, one of the losses coming to Arizona on Sept. 2, when he gave up three runs and five hits in five innings. He is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in four career starts against the Diamondbacks. He struck out 10 in six innings in a 6-3 victory at Chase Field on June 30, his only appearance there.
Walker is 3-0 with an 0.79 ERA in his past four starts, with 21 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings. He is 2-1 with a 2.32 ERA in five career starts against the Rockies, including a 2-1 mark with a 1.90 ERA in four outings vs. Colorado this year.