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Matheny would welcome rule against defensive shifts

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St. Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves

Manager Mike Matheny watches late-game action from the Cardinals dugout. Photo by Chris Lee,

MINNEAPOLIS • Only the rival Chicago Cubs have shifted their defense less this season than the Cardinals, and still manager Mike Matheny said Wednesday he’d be fine if they didn’t shift at all. He would welcome a rule against the defensive shifts that have come to dominate the game and change hitters into the launch-angle monsters that are slowing things down.

“I don’t know if it will necessarily evolve past it,” Matheny said. “I think there may be a rule change one day, potentially. That’s been in conversation. You’re putting more balls in the air which produces the kind of swings that swing and miss — you’d think that would force guys to stay on top and go the other way. That’s not what it’s doing. I wouldn’t be opposed to (a rule).

“For the good of the game.”

Matheny serves on the commissioner’s council charged with making rule proposals and studies to improve the pace of play. The commissioner has mused before about outlawing defensive shifts, and there has been pushback from teams, especially those that employ them heavily. The World Series champion Houston Astros stand out. They’ve shifted 662 times this season, according to Baseball Savant data, and that far outpaces the 50 times the Cardinals have done it or 40 times the Cubs have.

To erase the shift, baseball would have to consider a rule that establishes where fielders can stand – or that two infielders must always be to the left of second base. Such a rule could be more likely than changing the structure of the game, which pays for power over a shift, not contact that defies shifts.

“We’re trying to always listen to our fans, too,” Matheny said. “More than anything else it’s action. You’re seeing more strikeouts, more walks, lower averages, less balls in play, less things happening, and we’ve got to keep our fans engaged.”

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As he considers unleashing closer Bud Norris before the ninth inning and asking him, again, to handle more than the usual three outs, manager Mike Matheny does have a preference as to when and how to push the righthander.

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