CLEVELAND — Guardians infielder Gabriel Arias was the first to show up to the ballpark prior to Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on Saturday. He didn’t bother looking at the lineup hanging in the clubhouse. He knew his role was to get himself prepared to enter the game at any point like he has done for the past week. Or so he thought.
Arias, the Guardians’ No. 10 prospect (as ranked by MLB Pipeline), was sitting at his locker when bench coach DeMarlo Hale came over to him to ask how he was feeling.
“He was asking if I was ready to play defense,” Arias said, through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I was not understanding what he was saying. Then he told me to be ready to get some grounders at first because [I’m] playing first. It [shocked me].”
For the majority of the season, the Guardians have relied on Josh Naylor and Owen Miller at first base. But Naylor was visibly hobbling during and after Game 2 at Yankee Stadium on Friday. It was no surprise to the team that he woke up on Saturday feeling sore, which led to the decision to use Naylor as the designated hitter.
“I think he was a little concerned about going laterally at first, which I totally understand,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said.
When Naylor has shifted into the DH spot this season, it’s usually been Miller who’s taken his spot at first. But because he’s had some trouble defensively at that position this year, the Guardians decided to give Arias — a natural shortstop — a chance to make his first postseason start, playing first.
Arias didn’t start getting reps at first base until late in the Triple-A season. The Guardians value defensive versatility and knew this could be a need for the club down the stretch. He’s only made 10 appearances at first in the Minors and one in the Majors, but the Guardians seem confident that he can handle the position.
“He’s been taking balls out there every day,” Francona said. “The reports were very good. He is inexperienced there, but he’s a pretty good fielder. Again, you know, there’s some unknowns. That’s for sure. I kind of own up to that. I think there’s a lot of unknowns with our team.”
Miller has gone 0-for-8 with a walk to start the 2022 playoffs. Arias had yet to make his postseason debut before he was penciled into Game 3’s starting lineup. And even though the 22-year-old has only played in 16 big league games, Cleveland believes he’s the best option to fill in for a gimpy Naylor.
“I don’t think this moment’s going to overwhelm him,” Francona said, with a grin. “He looked more excited than anything.”
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