Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tyler Saladino learns to play left the hard way in Knights loss

Here's tonight's extended gamer...

When the White Sox promoted Micah Johnson from Double-A Birmingham to the Knights last week, it created a logjam of quality middle infielders in Charlotte.

The addition bumped Carlos Sanchez from everyday duties at second over to short and Tyler Saladino from short to unfamiliar territory.

Since the move, Saladino has made starts at third, short, left, and as a designated hitter, while also sitting out three games.

In Thursday’s 7-5 loss to the Indianapolis Indians in front of 10,289 at BB&T BallPark, he found himself back in left, and for the first time, had trouble.

After getting a late break on a line drive directly over his head, Saladino failed to hold on to a catchable ball and was charged with an error that led to a late insurance run for the Indians.

“Today wasn't my best day,” said Saladino, who had never played an inning in the outfield before Johnson's arrival. “It’s just different. Being in the infield, you don’t need to go too far, or run too hard for many pop flies. It’s more just trying to figure out how to camp under the ball, as opposed to turning and running,”

In his first appearance in left, Saladino had to borrow an outfielder's glove from Blake Tekotte.

Thursday, he was trying to break in a new one of his own.

“Tonight he made an error, but that’s how you learn,” said Knights manager Joel Skinner. “You can’t emulate that, you have to go out there and just play the position and learn from everything as you gain experience, but it’s something that he’ll get good at.

“It’s a way for us to get Saladino in the lineup. It’s just a matter of trying to fit him in and there’s nothing wrong with building that foundation as a utility guy.”

With both Sanchez and Johnson considered top-10 prospects in the White Sox system, the decision to move Saladino -- who is third on the team in average (.268) and second in RBIs (22) -- around is understandable from an organizational development standpoint. 

Skinner also acknowledged that the decision to add playing the outfield to Saladino's resume came from upper management. 

It’s the same tactic the Knights used with Steve Tolleson last season. Although Tolleson's a fair bit older than Saladino and never found a spot with Chicago, his ability to play all over the diamond has allowed him a greater number of opportunities throughout his career.

After hitting .288 in 116 games with Charlotte, Tolleson caught on with the Toronto Blue Jays this season and has appeared in games at second, all three outfield positions, and even once on the mound.

"I’ll play anywhere,” said Saladino. "If I’m in the lineup, I’ll take it. If you need me to catch, I’ll catch. That’s just the way it is." 

For a moment in the the ninth, it looked as though Saladino’s error might hurt a bit more when Josh Phegley launched a fly ball to left with a runner on.  

Indians leftfielder Jaff (pronounced Jeff) Decker turned his head and raced back to the wall, nearly disappearing in the shadows of the leftfield porch right where it suddenly juts back from 345 feet away from home plate to 350 before reemerging with the ball in his glove. 

"The odds of that ball landing in there weren’t very high," said Saladino, who is slowly growing familiar with the territory Decker had to cover. "We haven’t had a ball land there all season, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. If it's a few feet left, it's gone. He made a nice play to get back there and find it."

Erik Johnson (0-1) was hit with his first loss of the season after allowing six runs on six hits in six innings of work. He struck out five, but was hurt by home runs in the first and second inning.

The Knights will play the second of their four-game set with the Indians on Friday. Felipe Paulino will take the mound across Vance Worley.