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Skip Schumaker, Darnell McDonald, and Wesley Wright in a Utility Pitcher Roundup September 6, 2011

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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August was a busy month for the occasional movement from the field to the mound and back. Occasionally, it even happened in the opposite order. Skip Schumaker, Darnell McDonald, and Wesley Wright each had a hand in a weird outing.

On August 23, Skip Schumaker took the mound for his St. Louis Cardinals in a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though Schumaker has started the majority of his games this season, he was on the bench that night and Tony La Russa used him in relief. Kyle Lohse, who ironically has played a bit of left field himself, only managed three innings as the starter and allowed eight runs, all of them earned. He was relieved by Mitchell Boggs, who allowed two earned and one unearned in two innings, followed by the competent Marc Rzepczynski for two scoreless innings on two hits, and a one-hit, one-K inning from Octavio Dotel. Skip came in to an 11-0 deficit, then promptly struck out Trent Oeltjen, walked Andre Ethier, and gave up a home run to the light-hitting infielder Aaron Miles. Rod Barajas flied out to deep center and relief pitcher Blake Hawksworth, batting for himself, struck out looking. The Cardinals scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth, but that wasn’t enough to save Skip. He hadn’t pitched since college.

Three days later, the Oakland As were visiting the Boston Red Sox and the game wasn’t going well for the home team. Journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald had started the game at right field, as is his custom. In the top of the ninth, the Athletics were leading 13-4. Terry Francona had only gotten four innings out of starter Tim Wakefield, followed by three competent innings from Scott Atchison and a painful four-earned-run inning from Matt Albers. Since Albers wasn’t really a good option to stay in the game, McDonald moved from the field to the pitcher’s mound. Of course, this being the American League, that meant the team had to give up its designated hitter, so David Ortiz had a seat and Josh Reddick came in to play right. McDonald finished the game, giving up two runs, both earned, on one hit and two walks. Unsurprisingly, a game started by a knuckleballer had two wild pitches; surprisingly, one was Wakefield’s and one was Atchison’s. The position player and the guy who gave up four earned runs? No wild pitches at all.

Finally, Wesley Wright did things a little backwards. On the 23rd, manager Brad Mills called on the left-handed Wright to pitch to the Rockies’ lefty outfielder, Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez popped out to catcher Humberto Quintero and was followed in the linup by right-hander Troy Tulowitzki. This season, Troy is hitting .288/.361/.518 against right-handers and .345/.415/.634 against left-handers, so Mills was faced with a strategic decision: after Tulowitzki came first baseman Todd Helton, whose splits are in the opposite direction (.314/.402/.491 against right-handers, .292/.356/.438 against left-handers), so it was nonoptimal to lift Wright for a right-hander and then have the righty face Helton. The only other lefty in the bullpen was starter Wandy Rodriguez. Mills took Brian Bogusevic out of right field, moved Wright to right, and put in right-hander David Carpenter to face the right-handed Tulowitzki. Troy grounded out to the middle infield, and then Mills brough Wright back in to face Helton (putting J.B. Shuck in right field to complete the switch). That’s mainly notable because of the density of words pronounced like ‘right’ in that description.

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A Utility Pitcher Sidebar December 30, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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The joys of the position player pitching were well represented this year. A whopping eight players came in from the infield or outfield and stood on the mound, more often than not looking pretty comfortable. Two of them – Aaron Miles and Andy Marte – joined the Spectrum Club by pitching and being the designated hitter in the same season, as we discussed in a previous post. Miles’ achievement was even more unlikely because he played for a National League team, so he had to get lucky and DH an interleague game.

Let’s talk about the average utility pitcher, which is a phrase I just made up to avoid saying “position player called on to pitch” over and over again.

  1. He’s a journeyman. Felipe Lopez, who pitched for the Cardinals on April 17 in a 20-inning game against the Mets, has played for six teams since 2001. Joe Inglett played for three different teams since 2006, and he pitched for the Brewers in a loss on July 27. Backup catcher Kevin Cash has pitched for five teams since 2002, including Houston, where he pitched in a loss on May 28.
  2. He’s expendable.Jonathan Van Every, who pitched for Boston in a May 8 loss to the Yankees, has played 39 games over three seasons of bouncing between the minors and the majors. Bill Hall, his teammate, pitched on May 28 (in a different game than Cash did!) and played six utility positions for Boston during 2010 – second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions – in addition to pitching. Joe Mather, who pitched in the same game as Lopez and took the loss, played all three outfield positions and both infield corners. These are guys who are marginal enough that they have to learn a million positions just to be on the roster.
  3. He played for Boston at some point. Okay, okay, Inglett, Miles, Marte and Mather never did. Fine. But Van Every and Hall both pitched for Boston, Cash has done two unrelated stints with the Red Sox, and Lopez ended the season as Terry Francona’s utility man. That’s quite the coincidence, wouldn’t you agree?

Before anyone gripes, there’s one other type of utility pitcher, but he wasn’t represented this season. That, of course, is the star who gets his jollies pitching. This includes two prime varieties: the Wade Boggs, (wily vet who taught himself a knuckleball), and the Jose Canseco (idiot who hurts himself).

The Spectrum Club December 28, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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This year, I get to induct two more players into the prestigious* Spectrum Club.
*not a guarantee

The Spectrum Club is the elite group of players who play, in one season, at both ends of the Defensive Spectrum. At the end of a season, a player is inducted if he pitches in at least one game and appears as designated hitter in at least one game. As it stands, that leaves about ten pitchers who only served as placeholder DHs but never made a plate appearance on the rolls, but that’s okay.

Three players have joined the Spectrum Club twice – Jeff Kunkel in 1988 and 1989 for Texas, Mark Loretta in 2001 for the Brewers and 2009 for the Dodgers, and Wade Boggs in 1997 for the Yankees and 1999 for Tampa Bay. Baltimore leads the club in inductees with six.

This year’s first inductee is Aaron Miles of the Cardinals, who actually pitched twice (August 3 in a loss to  Houston and September 28 in a loss to Pittsburgh). Making it more impressive, Miles DHed only once, in an interleague win over Kansas City on June 26. Miles is an experienced pitcher, having tossed twice in 2007 and once in 2008. Tony Larussa has quite the commodity there, and I bet he wishes he’d had Miles on hand for that crazy 20-inning game against the Mets on April 17.

The second player to join the club is Andy Marte of Cleveland. Marte DHed twice, once on July 10 in a loss to the Rays and once on September 7. His single inning pitched came as part of the Best Game Ever, a July 29 loss to the Yankees in which the Yankees lost their DH and Marte struck out Nick Swisher.

Who’s the smart money on for Spectrum Club inductions in 2011? Joe Mather and Felipe Lopez are both reasonable hitters and both pitched for Tony Larussa in the Mets-Cardinals game. If Lopez stays with the Red Sox, he might be called on to DH an odd late game, and Terry Francona has been known to use position players in emergencies. Ike Davis may well be asked to DH interleague games for the Mets, and he was a closer in college, so he’d be a solid emergency reliever. If I had to guess, though, I’d figure that the next Spectrum Club inductee will be Nick Swisher getting his second induction for the Yankees.