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Sign of times: Wilson to call bunt defense

Mariners call on shortstop for bunt signs

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Something manager Don Wakamatsu noticed while watching Team Japan play in the World Baseball Classic last year has been incorporated into the Mariners' bunt defense.

The shortstop gives the signs.

As another example of going outside the box and trying new things, Wakamatsu and first-year infield coach Mike Brumley decided before Spring Training started to go against the norm and have the shortstop give the signs on bunt plays.

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"I have always felt that the guy that controlled most of the action on bunt defense was the shortstop," Brumley said, "but the play was always called by the third baseman or catcher. Don and I talked about it this winter and he mentioned that one thing he saw in the WBC was the Japanese shortstop calling signs on pick plays. He said, 'I think I like that. Let's do it.'"

Veteran Jack Wilson loves the idea.

"I can call what I see or feel," he said on Friday. "There have been a bunch of times when I will see the guy on second base doing something that makes me think we can pick him off, but another play already has been called."

Rather than intercede, he invariably would let it go and hope for the best.

A former Major League shortstop with the Cubs, Tigers, Red Sox, Astros, Mariners and Athletics, Brumley said he could not recall playing for a team that had the bunt plays called by the shortstop.

"I have never seen it done," he said.

Jack Hannahan, who would give the bunt defense signs as a third baseman, is now doing the same thing as a backup shortstop with the Mariners and he likes the idea.

"You are pretty much controlling the running game," he said, "and for a guy like Jack Wilson, whose baseball IQ is off the charts, Wak couldn't have picked a better guy to try this."

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Wilson said the last time he gave the bunt plays signs was at Oxnard (Calif.) Junior College.

"You just don't see it happen very often," he said. "But it makes sense because what you are trying to do is key off the runner at second. Who better to read the runner than the shortstop or second baseman?

"We are the closest to the runner. I can see what the runner is trying to do and how far he's getting off the base. It will be nice to have the freedom to dictate what we do depending on what the runner is doing."

With a middle infielder in charge of giving the signs, it should make things easier for the pitchers. For one thing, they already are accustomed to looking at a middle infielder to see which one is covering the base on a potential double-play grounder hit back to the pitcher.

Unlike past seasons, the pitchers will now get the bunt play information from the first baseman instead of the third baseman, who would give the sign to the other infielders and then walk toward the mound and relay the information.

"The third baseman wasn't as involved in the play as much as a middle infielder," Wilson reasoned, "so I guess that's why he has been the one giving the signs for all these years."

"When you are teaching out of the box a little, the way Don does," Brumley said, "it's the curiosity that makes this make sense. It makes sense to us, so let's go for it. Jack loves the idea of calling the plays and it simplifies everything."

Indeed, Wilson is 100 percent on-board with the play-calling concept.

"First of all, I have to show them in Spring Training that I can do it," he said. "It gives me another responsibility to use my brain, and my goal is to show them I can make good decisions. But at the end of the spring, they will decide what's best for the team."

If it works as well as it did for Team Japan, which successfully defended its World Baseball Classic championship, there might be other MLB teams, besides the Mariners, turning their bunt defense sign duties over to the shortstop.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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