LF, catcher, game-tying HR: All in a day’s work for Guardians’ latest hero

9:53 PM UTC

CLEVELAND — As each day of Spring Training passed and Guardians manager Stephen Vogt learned more about his new team, he could hardly go a sentence without using the word “versatility.” And no player better exemplifies it than David Fry.

For a scrappy club, versatility is essential, whether it’s on the bases, in the bullpen or on defense. Sometimes, it’s the reason the Guardians are able to separate themselves from their opponents, even when fate seems to be carrying momentum in the opposite direction, which is exactly what happened on Wednesday.

The Guardians were down to their final two outs before Fry hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to force extras. Brayan Rocchio then served the walk-off single over the five-man infield in the 10th to lift the Guardians to a 5-4 victory over the Tigers at Progressive Field. But none of that happens without Cleveland reshuffling the deck in the seventh.

Cleveland was down by two runs with two outs. The offense hadn’t showed any signs of gaining steam after plating a pair of runs in the second inning. Vogt wanted to take advantage of his bench and mix up the vibe on offense. So, he sent Kyle Manzardo to the plate instead of third baseman Gabriel Arias to face righty Jason Foley.

Manzardo picked up his first career hit on a single down the left-field line. Vogt dug deeper into his bench and replaced Manzardo with pinch-runner Ramón Laureano and then pinch-hit Bo Naylor for Austin Hedges in the ensuing at-bat. But when Detroit turned to its bullpen and called on a lefty, the Guardians decided to empty the bench by pinch-hitting Tyler Freeman for Naylor.

“I mean, the seventh inning was chaos, right?” Vogt said. “Emptying the bench like that. But that’s how we’re built. We’re built to do things like that. They’re all prepared to do it.”

In that inning, it didn’t provide the results the Guardians were hoping for, but it sparked some energy in the dugout.

“Defensively, we’re gonna try weird stuff,” Vogt said. “We’re gonna do some different things to try and generate offense in games where we don’t really have it rolling. Boys responded big time.”

It was because of Fry’s versatility that he was in the lineup in the first place. As a backup catcher, he was in left field to start the game, with Cleveland adopting a group approach to replace the injured Steven Kwan. And it was because of Fry’s versatility that he was able to move behind the dish when Hedges (and Naylor, for that matter) were pinch-hit for. That not only allowed the Guardians to make the extra move in the seventh, but it also allowed Fry to remain in the lineup to ultimately become the hero.

“I can’t speak enough to what David means to us, being able to catch, play first, play third, play outfield, and obviously come up with clutch hit after clutch hit — and he’s not playing every day,” Vogt said. “He’s just a baseball player, and David’s invaluable for us.”

Despite not playing every day, Fry has managed to keep his average at .316 and his OPS at .929 so far this season. And when the game reaches the later innings, he’s a reliable bat to turn to, considering he’s hitting .429 (6-for-14) with one homer and five RBIs in the eighth inning or later this year.

“They do such a good job of keeping us prepared for whatever role we’re gonna be in,” Fry said. “We have so many guys who can play so many different positions that it makes it easier for the coaching staff to move guys around.”

Freeman, who has been playing center field all year, remained in Wednesday’s game after pinch-running to play third base. Arias has already played seven different positions this season. Fry has the ability to play five. And when this is an option for a team that has a never-say-die attitude, the Guardians are able to find an unconventional recipe for success.

“I think it’s just who we are as a team,” Fry said. “I mean, we talk about it all the time — we’re down and it’s just like, ‘Yeah, we’re probably gonna win tonight,’ no matter what the score is. … It’s just the confidence we have as a group and just the belief we have in one another.”