Marcus Semien made the jog from the dugout towards shortstop – moving stride-for-stride with Tyler Saladino – and instead of stopping, continued on to leftfield for the first time in his professional career.
For those who hadn’t looked at the lineup card before Saturday’s 5-3 Knights loss to the Columbus Clippers, the sight of the two traveling towards short must have had all the drama of the water-pistol horse races you’ll sometimes see at the carnival.
This time, it was Semien who pulled away, leaving Saladino, who has also tried his hand in left this season, on the dirt of the infield.
The company line when Semien was reassigned to the Knights on June 1 was that it was a way for the young infielder to get more at-bats. Internally, though, officials and coaches asked Semien to explore playing the outfield.
“They asked me to get an outfielder’s glove, so I do exactly what I’m told,” Semien said. “I took some fly balls when I was in Chicago in (batting practice) just playing around with it and when I got sent down, they told me to work on it a little bit more.”
After three days of working with White Sox outfield coordinator Doug Sisson – who helped Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals transition from third base to leftfield before joining Chicago's staff – Knights manager Joel Skinner deemed Semien ready for action.
“It’s my first time doing outfield drills with Doug, but he’s got a lot of good stuff,” Semien said. “He’s taught a lot of infielders to be good outfielders. So it’s been kind of a crash course over the last three days.”
It took Clippers’ leadoff man Jose Ramirez all of three pitches to put the 23-year-old to the test, sending a moon-shot in his direction. Semien took a few steps in and to his left, staggered just a bit, and came up with the ball.
“I just tried to trust in my preparation,” Semien said. “I’ve had a lot of practice out there, so I just treated it just like I have in practice.”
“It usually does find its way to you,” Saladino laughed. “(Semien) did a good job. He made all his plays. All in all, it was pretty good.”
Columbus tested Semien again in the second, third and fourth innings, with Semien making a nice running catch on a ball that looked destined for the gap in leftcenter to the delight of the 10,402 on hand at BB&T BallPark.
“I told the guys on the bench that you just knew the first ball was going to be hit in his direction,” Knights manager Joel Skinner said. “He did fine. He had one ball off a left-handed bat that took him towards the line and then he had a ball in the gap that he ran down. His breaks were fine.”
Seemingly also satisfied were the Clippers, who went the game’s final five innings without sending a ball in Semien’s direction.
"It’s going to be kind of a rotational thing," said Skinner of where Semien will play going forward. "He’s going to play shortstop, second, a little third, and a little leftfield. It’s just a matter of rotating him through it."
Asked how he felt about the decision to expand his range a few hundred feet, Semien, who has hit .227 since joining Charlotte, replied, “It adds value if I can play the three infield positions and the outfield. I just want to continue to swing the bat as well as I can and see what happens.”
Notes: Asked how the playing rotation is going to look once Micah Johnson (hamstring) returns to action, Skinner replied, “You look at left-right (match ups) a little bit. But at this stage of the season, it’s about getting everyone their at-bats. We need to rotate guys through and that does create logjams at times because everyone wants to play. That’s just the nature of where we are at. As a player, you need to take advantage of the time you get.”