As Opening Day approaches, we all need a little diversion from the impatience of waiting for that first “pitch that counts.” With that in mind, BBRT would like to take a look back at an unusual set of 2016 statistical lines – those belonging to position players who took the mound – usually, but not always, in games that were already out of hand. First, we’ll look at some statistics and trivia surrounding those appearances; then a Hall of Fame All-Time All Star team of position players who pitched; and, finally, a game-by-game look at 2016 position-player appearances on the hill.
First for the stat-inclined:
- Twenty-two position players took the mound a total of 26 times in 2016.
- A total of 18 teams (13 AL and five NL) used position players in relief.
- While the Padres sent position players to the mound the most times (three), AL teams used position players to pitch 19 times to the NL’s seven.
- Position players threw a total of 24 2/3 innings this past season; with a 5.47 ERA.
- More catchers were used as pitchers (seven of the 22 players and nine of the 26 appearances) than any other position.
IT AIN’T OVER ‘TILL THE CATCHER COMES IN TO PITCH
Only once in 2016 did position players take the mound in a game that was “still in question.” On July 1, the Blue Jays used a pair of infielders (Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins) in the 18th and 19th innings of a 2-1 loss to the Indians.
Now some individual stats:
- Four position players were called on to pitch twice in 2017: Christian Bethancourt (Padres); Drew Butera (Royals); Chris Gimenez (Indians); Erik Kratz (Astros/Pirates).
- Three position players reached 90-mph on the radar gun while on the mound: Christian Bethancourt (Padres); J.B. Shuck (White Sox); Eduardo Escobar (Twins). Bethancourt led the way at 96 mph.
- We saw a (pinch) pitching position player facing a pinch-hitting pitcher: the Cubs’ Miguel Montero pitching to the Mets’ Jason deGrom on July 3.
- If you are a position player whose first name is Tyler, you have a better than average chance of taking the mound. The 2016 list of position players who pitched includes: Tyler Motter; Tyler Ladendorf; Tyler White; and Tyler Holt.
- Four position players logged clean (no baserunners) mound appearances of at least one inning:Bryon Holaday (1 1/3 innings, 18 pitches, 12 strikes); Luis Sardinas ( one inning, eight pitches, six strikes); Chris Gimenez (one inning, ten pitches, six strikes); and Tyler Holt (one inning, five pitches, four strikes).
Erik Kratz, a reserve catcher, pitched for both the Astros and Pirates in 2016; becoming the first player to catch and pitch in both the AL and NL in the same season.
All Time Hall of Fame Position Players Who Took A Mound Turn
C – Buck Ewing
1B – Stan Musial
2B – John Ward
3B – Wade Boggs
SS – Honus Wagner
OF – Ted Williams
OF – Ty Cobb
OF – Tris Speaker
DH – Jimmie Foxx
P- Babe Ruth (yes, even after he joined the Yankees, he took an occasional turn on the hill).
2016 POSITION PLAYER PITCHING APPEARANCES
April 27 … Erik Kratz, Astros
On April 27, for the first time in the 2016 season, a position player – Astros’ reserve catcher Eric Kratz – strolled in from the bullpen to take the mound. Kratz came on to start the bottom of the eighth with Seattle (at home) up 9-1 on his Astros. He reached the low-80’s on the radar gun (and the backstop on at least one pitch), while giving up two runs on three hits, two wild pitches and a passed ball. The Astros lost 11-1. It was the 36-year-old Kratz’ first MLB pitching appearance, but it wouldn’t be his last.
May 8 … Josh Phegley, A’s
On May 8, the Orioles – behind home runs by Manny Machado (two long balls), Pedro Alverez, Jonathan Schoop. Mark Trumbo and Joey Rickard – were leading the A’s (in Baltimore) 11-3 with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Saving bullpen arms seemed to make sense, so reserve catcher Josh Phegley was called to the mound. Phegley acquitted himself well, fanning Adam Jones on a 3-2 pitch with an 86-mph fastball and then getting Mark Trumbo on a pop up to the infield. While it was Phlegley’s first professional pitching experience, he did win the 2006 Indiana Mr. Baseball Award (high school) as a catcher-pitcher.
May 20 … RubenTejada, Cardinals
On May 20, veteran infielder (primarily SS) Ruben Tejada made his first-ever professional pitching appearance. The 26-year-old, seven-season major leaguer came on in the top of the ninth with the Cardinals trailing the Diamondbacks 9-2. It started okay, as he flashed a mid-80’s fastball and got a fly out by Yasmany Tomas. Then there were home runs by Chris Herrmann and Brandon Drury before a pair of fly outs (Chris Owings and Phil Gosselin). All in a day’s (or inning’s) work.
May 31 … Chris Bethancourt and Alexi Amarista, Padres
With the Padres trailing the Mariners 16-4 (in Seattle), San Diego brought Chris Bethancourt – who had started the game at catcher and later moved to left field – to the mound to start the bottom of the eighth. Bethancourt opened a few eyes by reaching 96 mph on the radar gun and throwing an assortment of fastballs, changeups (in the 80’s), knuckleballs, a slider (that resulted in an HBP) and even a 53-mph “eephus” pitch. The results were mixed – fly out to right; walk; fly out to left; walk; hit-by-pitch. After 26 pitches Andy Green pulled Bethancourt (moving him to second base, his fourth position of the game) and brought Alexi Ramirez in from shortstop to get the final out – which he did on one pitch (inducing a groundout). BBRT Note: The 25-year-old Bethancourt (a .223 hitter in 153 MLB games), who has proven he can consistently top 90 mph from the mound, pitched and played in the field in the Panamanian Winter League and in 2017 Spring Training
June 14… Chris Bethancourt, Padres
Padres’ utility player Chris Bethancourt made his second mound appearance on June 14 – this time against the Marlins. Once again combining mid-90’s heat with an “eephus” pitch that this time registered just 49 mph, Bethancourt (who came in to pitch the top of the ninth with San Diego down 13-4) gave up a single and a walk, allowing no runs and notching one strikeout.
June 19 …. Andrew Romine, Tigers
The Tigers were down 16-5 to Kansas City, when manager Brad Ausmus called in utility player Andrew Romine (last season he played every position except catcher) to pitch. It was the bottom of the eighth and the Royals had runners on first and third, with one out. Using a fastball in the high 80’s and a knuckler, Romine (who was a relief pitcher on his high school team) walked LF Jarrod Dyson, induced 3B Cheslor Cuthbert to ground out (fielder’s choice) scoring one run, walked 2B Whit Merrifield and then got pinch hitter Christian Colon on a grounder to third. It was Romine’ second MLB mound appearance. He gave up four hits, three runs (two homers) in one inning in 2014. This second outing lowered his career ERA to 16.20.
July 1 … Tyler Motter, Rays
Tampa Bay Rays’ rookie utility player Tyler Motter (who had already played six defensive positions in 2016 – everywhere but CF, C and P) took a turn on the mound on July 1. The game was in Tampa and the Rays were down 10-0 to the Tigers (batting with one on and two out in the top of the ninth), when Motter was called in to pitch. He faced two hitters, giving up a single to C James McCann and inducing a groundball out off the bat of SS Jose Iglesias. It was Motter’s second professional pitching experience; he also threw one scoreless inning (one hit, one walk) at High A Charlotte in 2013. Note: In 2015, the versatile Motter led the International League in doubles and extra base hits – hitting .284-17-87. In 2016, he hit .209 at Triple A and .188 in 34 games for the Rays.
A Hitter “Pinch-Pitching” to a Pitcher Pinch Hitting
July 3 … Miguel Montero, Cubs
On July 3, the Mets were pounding the Cubs 13-1 when, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon brought in catcher Miguel Montero to relieve Joel Peralta (two outs runner on first). Montero hit the first batter he faced (1B James Loney) with a pitch and then induced an inning-ending groundout.
It was when Montero came to the mound to start the eighth inning that things got a little strange. Montero gave up a leadoff single to Mets’ CF Juan Lagares. Due up next was Mets’ relief pitcher Antonio Bastardo. The Mets went to their bench for a pinch-hitter – pitcher Jacob deGrom. So, we had a position player (pinch) pitching to a pitcher pinch hitting. Montero got deGrom (hitting about .160 at the time) on a fly ball to left. He then retired LF Brandon Nimmo on a fly to right before giving up three more singles and one run. Montero’s line for the day: 1 1/3 innings, four hits and one earned run.
June 3 … Tyler Ladenorf, A’s
In 2016, Tyler Ladenorf was a true utility player for the Oakland A’s – spending time at DH, 2B, 3B, CF, RF and PITCHER. (In his 53 career MLB games – 2015/16 – he has also taken the field at SS and LF.) The 28-year-old Ladenorf, who hadn’t pitched since high school, came on in the eighth, with the A’s trailing 12-2. He gave up a single and a walk in a scoreless inning.
June 8 … J.B. Shuck, White Sox
J.B. Shuck did not find himself in an enviable situation on June 8. The White Sox outfielder was on the mound in the top of the ninth with his team down 11-0 to the Nationals and 2016 All Star and reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper at the plate. Shuck, who was brought in at the start of the inning, had already given up one run on a double and a pair of ground outs. However, he got Harper on a grounder to first. In the process, Shuck reach 91 mph on the radar gun. It was Shuck’s first MLB pitching appearance, but he is no stranger to the mound. He pitched and played outfield at Ohio State. In fact, as a college freshman, he not only batted .325 (123 at bats), but also led the team in ERA (2.51 in 79 innings). Shuck also threw a scoreless (1-2-3) inning at Triple A in 2012.
June 13 … Chris Bethancourt, Padres
Apparently, the Padres found Chris Benthancourt’s mid-90’s fastball impressive (see May 31), since they brought the Padres’ backstop back in to pitch on June 13th – for the ninth inning of a 13-4 loss to the Marlins (in San Diego). He came off the bench this time and gave up a hit and a walk in an 18-pitch scoreless inning, which included a strikeout of Marlins’ pitcher Brian Ellington.
ONE FOR THE (RECORD) BOOKS
June 22 … Erik Kratz, Pirates
It was an unusual year for MLB catcher Erik Kratz. He started the season with the Padres, was traded to the Astros, was cut from the Astros, played in the Angels’ minor league system and was signed by the Pirates – all by June 11. Then on June 22, the seven-season (five teams) MLB veteran backstop PITCHED his way into the baseball record books. On that day, the Pirates were facing the Giants in Pittsburgh. By the top the eighth, San Francisco had a 10-1 lead and Kratz had entered the game playing first base.
Things did not get any better, as the Giants upped their lead to 15-1 by the end of the inning. The Pirates scored a couple in the bottom of the inning (now 15-3) and, in the top of the ninth, Kratz moved from first base to the mound. When he threw his first pitch, he made history as the first player to catch and pitch in both the American and National Leagues in the same season. (Katz had taken the mound for the AL Astros on April 27).
Kratz had a better outing this time, giving up two hits and no runs – and even notching a strikeout (Brandon Belt.) Oh, the 36-year-old Kratz topped of his day by striking out in the bottom of the ninth to end the game. Note: Kratz indicated he last pitched regularly in high school, but did log a handful of innings in the minor leagues. His “stuff” on the historic day ranged from a 52-mph knuckler to a mid-80’s fastball.
June 25 … Drew Butera, Royals
Royals’ backup catcher Drew Butera started the June 25 game against the Astros (in Kansas City) on the bench (well, in the bullpen). He was finally called into action in the Astros’ half of the ninth inning, coming in from the pen – not to catch – to take the mound. At the time, Houston had runners on first and third with no outs and a 12-5 lead. Butera gave up a run-scoring double to Astros’ catch Juan Castro before retiring the next three batters in order, including a strikeout of 1B Marwin Gonzalez. Butera came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and lashed a double to left field.
July 1 … Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins, Blue Jays
Normally, one expects to see position players take the mound in blowouts – as managers work to save bullpen arms. On July 1, Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons sent a couple of position players to the mound in a 1-1 game simply because he had run out of relievers. The Blue Jays and Indians went into the 18th inning (in Toronto) tied 1-1 and Gibbons had used all seven available relievers. They had combined to toss 10 1/3 scoreless innings, with seven hits, one walk and eight strikeouts.
Out of options, Gibbons brought middle infielder Ryan Goins off the bench to pitch the 18th. Goins had a rough inning, but emerged unscathed. It started with a pair of singles – putting Indians’ RF Lonnie Chisenhall and 3B Jose Ramirez at first and third, respectively. The next batter, LF Michael Martinez grounded to second base, with Ramirez caught in a 2B-C-3B-P rundown trying to score (Goins getting the putout). After an intentional walk to CF Tyler Naquin, Goins got C Chris Gomez to hit into a double play to end the inning still tied 1-1.
In the 19th inning, Blue Jays’ 2B Darwin Barney (at this point, three-for-eight in the game) replaced Goins on the hill. He gave up a home run (the game winner) to the first batter he faced (DH Carlos Santana) before retiring the next three batters (including a strikeout of 1B Mike Napoli).
July 2 …. Ryan LaMarre, Red Sox
Ouch! The score 21-2 when Red Sox’ reserve OF Ryan LaMarre was called in to pitch the ninth against the Angels on July 2. Considering, each of the four pitchers who preceded him had given up at least three runs, he did an admirable job. LeMarre threw 12 pitches, eight for strikes, giving up two hits – but no runs.
July 2 … Bryon Holaday, Rangers
The Rangers were down 17-5 to the Twins (in Minnesota) and had gone through four relievers, when reserve catcher Bryon Holaday was called in to replace Tony Barnette with one on (first) and one out in the bottom of the seventh. Holaday got the final out of the inning (Danny Santana) on a fly out and then went on to pitch a 1-2-3 eighth. Overall, Holaday pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings – 18 pitches/12 strikes – in what is still his only career MLB mound stint. (He had been a pitcher/shortstop in high school, before moving to catcher in college.)
July 3 … Chris Gimenez, Indians
The day before Independence Day, Indians’ backstop Chris Giminez celebrated by freeing himself of the catchers’ shin guards, mask and chest protector – coming in to the game at third base in the sixth inning and going to the mound in the seventh. Gimenez – who threw 33 pitches/23 strikes over the seventh and eighth innings of a 17-1 Blue Jays win, was credited with an 82-mph fastball and a 67-mph change. He came into the game with the Indians down 13-1 and retired the side in order in the seventh. They should have let him quit while he was ahead. In the bottom of the eighth, Gimenez gave up four tallies as he faced the middle of the order: Josh 3B Donaldson, double; DH Edwin Encarnacion, run-scoring double; LF Mike Saunders, fly out; C Russell Martin, run-scoring single; SS Troy Tulowitzki, infield fly out; 1B Justin Smoak, two-run homer; RF Junior Lake, ground out.
July 8 … Jared Hoying, Rangers
On July 8, for the second time in a week, the Rangers called on a position player to save wear and tear on the bullpen arms. Rookie outfielder Jared Hoying was called in to pitch the top of the ninth with the Rangers trailing 9-0. Throwing consistently in the 60-mph range, Hoying (who said the last time he pitched was in high school – and even then it was rare) retired three of four batters – giving up a solo home run to Twins’ DH Kennys Vargas. Hoying threw 14 pitches, nine for strikes.
July 26 … Drew Butera, Royals
Royals’ backup catcher Sal Butera was called on to pitch for the second time in 2016 (see June 25), this time to get just the final out in the ninth inning of a 13-0 loss to the Angels (in Kansas City). Butera induced a groundball out from 2B Johnny Giavotella on an 0-2 count. Butera is almost a “fixture” on the mound among position players. He’s made five trips to the hill (to pitch, many more as a catcher), pitching a total of four innings – with a 4.50 ERA and four strikeouts.
Sal and Drew Butera – Father and Son Have Both Experienced Both Sides of the “Battery”
The apple falls not far from the tree. Sal Butera enjoyed nine-year major league career as a catcher (Twins/Tigers/Expos/Red/Blue Jays). During that time (1980-88), he not only caught in 348 games, he took the mound twice (for the Expos in 1985 and the Reds in 1986). Butera’s career pitching line: Two games, two innings pitched, no hits, no runs, one walk – no decisions.
Sal’s son – Drew Butera – also made it to the major leagues as a catcher; coming up in 2010 and still active in 2016 (Twins/Dodgers/Angels/Royals). Like his dad, he’s worked behind the plate (342 games) and on the mound (five pitching appearances). Butera has pitched for the Twins, Dodgers and Royals, with a career line of four innings pitched, three hits, two earned runs one walk, four strikeouts – and no decisions.
July 29 … Luis Sardinas, Mariners
On July 29, in one of the best position-player relief appearances of the season, Mariners utility man Luis Sardinas used a high-70’s/low 80’s fastball, and a 65-mph curve to pitch a 1-2-3 frame against the future World Series Champion Cubs. At the time, the Mariners were trailing 12-0 (bottom of the eighth), had already sat through an hour-and-fifteen-minute rain delay and had used four pitchers (all of whom were scored upon). Sardinas got through his clean inning on eight pitches – six strikes. It went: ground out to third (SS Addison Russell); ground out to pitcher (RF Jason Heyward); fly out to center (3B Javier Baez). In 2016, Sardinas played 1B, 2B, 3B, SS and LF in addition to his mound stint.
August 11 … Eduardo Escobar, Twins
On August 11, the Twins (at home) were trailing the Astros 12-6 in the top of the ninth. Reliever Taylor Rogers came on to pitch. The inning did not get off to a good start: walk, walk, throwing error by Rogers (scoring a run), single (scoring another run). With that, manager Paul Molitor chose to pull another reliever out of his hat. This time it was Eduardo Escobar, who had started the game as SS. Molitor moved starting 3B Jorge Polanco to short, brought in Trevor Plouffe to play third and had Escobar replace Rogers on the mound. Using a 90-mph fastball and even tossing in a trio of curveballs, Escobar got ten of sixteen pitches over for strikes – giving up a harmless single and then notching two fly outs and a pop up to end the inning. (Escobar, by the way, was two-for-four while in the game at shortstop.)
August 20 … Ryan Flaherty, Orioles
In the eighth inning of a game in which the Orioles trailed the Astros 10-1, Ryan Flaherty came in to replace Manny Machado at 3B – little did he know he would soon move half-way across the diamond (to the mound). Having already used four relievers, Buck Showalter brought Flaherty in to pitch the top of the ninth (DH Pedro Alvarez took over at 3B). Flaherty used primarily a low-80’s mph fastball and was touched up for two runs on three hits, including a home run to the first batter he faced – Astros’ catcher Jason Castro. Still, he threw 12 of 19 pitches for strikes. Oh, yeah, and Flaherty led off the bottom of the ninth with a strikeout looking. Tough day at the office.
August 18 … Tyler White, Astros
No doubt the 2016 Orioles had a homer-heavy lineup. On August 18, they had already hit five long balls – J.J. Hardy (two), Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Manny Machado – in building a seventh-inning 12-5 lead over the Astros (in Baltimore). It should come as no surprise then that Astros’ 1B Tyler White, brought in to pitch the eighth inning, gave up a second home run to the Orioles’ Chris Davis (who would hit 38 on the year). Still, White acquitted himself well, giving up just the one hit and retiring Manny Machado on a grounder to third, Mark Trumbo on a grounder to short and Pedro Alvarez on a fly out to left.
August 22 … Tyler Holt, Reds
Reds’ reserve outfielder Tyler Holt didn’t waste any time retiring the side when he was called upon to face the Dodgers in the ninth inning of an 18-9 blowout. Holt had pinch-hit for reliever Michael Lorenzen in the bottom of the eighth and stayed in to pitch the ninth. He used a combination of knuckleballs and “batting practice” fastballs to set the Dodgers down in order (fly out-groundout-fly out) on just five pitches (four strikes). Of the six Red who took the mound in Cincinnati that day. Holt was the only one who didn’t give up at least two runs.
August 27 … Chris Gimenez, Indians
On August 27, Chris Gimenez made is second 2016 mound appearance for the Indians (see July 3). He fared better this time out. (Gimenez gave up four runs in two innings in his first 2017 mound stint.) Coming to the mound in the bottom of the eighth with the Indians down 7-0, Gimenez pitched a 1-2-3 inning: Elvis Andrus (line out to SS); Robinson Chirinos (ground out to SS); and Nomar Mazara (foul pop).
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