On the heels of an exhilarating comeback in the ninth inning in the series opener, the Guardians tried to make some magic again on Tuesday, bringing the tying run to the plate in the final frame. But this time, an overturned safe call at first base ended all hopes of a late-night rally, leaving the Guardians with a 4-1 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“We’re never out of it,” Cleveland backstop Austin Hedges said. “We’re relentless and that’s why we’re winning a lot of ballgames and the only ones we’re losing, we’re putting a lot of pressure on them. They know they got to play their best game to beat us.”
Down by three runs with two outs, Franmil Reyes drew a walk before Rosario proved why he needs to be in the lineup with his third hit of the night, serving a single into right field. The possibility of a victory was halted after the next batter, but that didn’t take away from learning more about Rosario’s confusing situation.
The positive about Rosario is that he proved how well he could hit last season — owning the most four-hit games in the Majors — and now he’s started to reflect that same batter over the last two contests.
The only problem Rosario ran into offensively last year was at the beginning of the season when he was tasked to handle a transition to center field — a position he only played a couple of times during Spring Training. The more he struggled defensively, the worse he was at the plate. It seemed all too coincidental that as soon as he was penciled in at his natural position of shortstop, he turned into a different hitter.
Now, Rosario is back in the outfield (this time in left), but hasn’t shown any correlation between his defensive and offensive performances. He moved back out to the grass on Monday and Tuesday and over those two games, he went a combined 6-for-9. Pair that bat with his ridiculous speed (ranking the fastest on the team with an average sprint speed of 29.5 feet per second), he can be quite the asset for the Guardians.
“Yes, because last year when we had him in center early, he didn’t swing the bat,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said about the correlation between defense and offense. “Some of that is maybe April in Ohio, but he’s starting to heat up and that’s good.”
Here’s where Rosario runs into some issues. He still feels far from comfortable in the outfield, and despite his willingness to play there, there’s no hiding that it’ll come with serious growing pains, as we saw on Monday with his dropped fly ball.
“He’s such a pro,” Francona said. “It’s not an easy ask. … My job is to try to put guys in a position where they can succeed. And like I said, that’s kind of a tough ask right there and I know that.”
So, why is Rosario in left field? The team has run out of other spots to put him. The Guardians want to have Josh Naylor at first base both to improve the defense in right field and to cater to his recovery from his gruesome lower-leg injury last June. If Naylor is at first, that moves Owen Miller — whose consistent bat needs to be in the lineup – over to second base. If Miller moves to second base, Andrés Giménez, who has earned the right to have an everyday role with the way he’s been swinging, needs to move to shortstop. With all the infield spots taken, that only leaves left field for Rosario.
And now it gets even trickier. Eventually, the Guardians will have to sort through all their middle infielders, considering they have a handful of other highly-regarded middle infielders working their way through the Minor League system.
Could Rosario work his way into being part of the future at shortstop? Probably not with the other options Cleveland has. But if his bat keeps going the way it’s starting to (and the way we saw it could for most of 2021), it’ll be hard to keep him out of the lineup. Is it worth suffering a little on defense at times in left field when the club already knows it’s had a rocky defensive start to the season all over the diamond? It could be. But that’s something Cleveland knows it has to work through.
“I think he’s strong enough mentally to handle it,” Francona said. “I think he’ll be OK.”