Pitchers Playing the Field

Fun times tonight in Philadelphia when, due to a lack of bench players and a few interesting ejections in a 16-inning game, Philly pitcher Roy Oswalt, who had never played a single out away from the mound in his entire professional career, found himself playing left field. He even made a putout, catching a popup off the bat of Houston catcher Jason Castro, before grounding out to end the game (though he did show good plate discipline on a couple of close-calls).

As you can imagine, everyone had a lot of fun watching the All-Star pitcher hang out in left field. Who doesn’t like to see something like that, especially when it seems so much more rare than the reverse (ie, a non-pitcher coming in to pitch)? It reminded me of a post I wrote last year looking at this exact same phenomenon. I’ve reprinted it below. There have been a couple of instances since then, and I’m pretty sure I missed one or two when I wrote this, but it holds up for the most part. You can see original comments to the article over at the old blog location. Enjoy (especially that Jesse Orosco/Roger McDowell story – too good!).

It’s been an interesting year so far, with Greinke’s dominance, the plethora of cycles, and everything else going on. One of the more interesting things that seems to be happening a lot this year is non-pitchers coming in to pitch an inning. With it happening again last night in the Reds-Brewers game, I can think of at least three times this year when it’s happened. And every time it’s happened, the tv guys seem to have a ball with it. After all, it is funny to see JJ Hardy or Gabe Kapler strike out to players who haven’t toed the rubber in 5 or 10 years.

But I came across something equally interesting the other day and, seemingly, more rare (though I’m probably wrong about that): pitchers playing a non-pitcher position, such as rightfield or first-base. Reading through a list of pitchers who have had the most career games without a plate appearance over at Recondite Baseball, I wondered about Jesse Orosco and how long he went between plate appearances. His was an historically long career, and much of the last 10 years of it or so was spent as a lefty specialist, so I figured that he could’ve gone more games between his plate appearances than Buddy Groom had in his career. I wasn’t even close, but I did notice something interesting on his BR batting page.

In 1986, Jesse Orosco played one game in right field. That struck me as borderline ridiculous: some manager at one time thought that his best option was to have soft-tossing, portly, and old (even at age 29) Jesse Orosco play rightfield? Wow.

But it’s true. It happened on July 22, 1986, with the Mets playing the Reds in Cincinnati. In the bottom of the 10th, Davey Johnson brought in Orosco to pitch. After getting two outs and giving up a single to Pete Rose (which pinch-runner Eric Davis turned into a triple with two stolen bases), Orosco was shuttled to right while Roger McDowell finished off the inning. In the 11th, McDowell was again pitching and Orosco was still in right. Two outs and single into the 11th, McDowell and Orosco switched places again. Orosco finished off the 11th and pitched the full 12th (McDowell actually moved from right- to left- during the 12th). In the 13th, McDowell and Orosco switched places again, and it stayed that way through the 14th, when the game ended. Orosco even made a putout on a flyball by Tony Perez.

There was a lot more to the story than that, though. From the next day’s LA Times:

(Click “Read More” to continue reading.)

What would have been a shapeless and forgettable Mets defeat became another extended evening of punches and victory. The Mets lead a division in which the other members have all but given up the fight. The same cannot be said for a team that recently has become as readily associated with brawling as it has with winning.

The banners hanging in Riverfront Stadium last night reflected the Mets’ changing image – an image the team does not necessarily dispute. The banners read “Police 4, Mets 0” and “It’s not a good Knight” and “Welcome to Wrestlemania 3.”

Each was tied to a specific event of the preceding four days – the arrest of four Mets in Houston early Saturday, the role Ray Knight played in the brawl that interrupted the Tuesday night game and the free-for-all that followed.

The fight occurred in the 10th inning. Davis, a pinch runner, stole third base. He and Knight bumped on the slide. Davis appeared to elbow and push the Mets’ third baseman. Knight, a central figure in the Mets’ May 27 fight against the Dodgers and formerly a Golden Glove boxer, punched Davis, starting the brawl.

Knight and Davis were ejected and each expects to be fined by National League president Chub Feeney. Feeney was unavailable for comment, but another National League executive said yesterday that suspensions were improbable.

“You can’t overlook Howard’s home run and all the switches Davey {Johnson} had to pull,” Keith Hernandez said. “But what I’ll remember most is Ray’s right hook. He spun Davis around.”

The brawl and discussion that followed interrupted play for about 20 minutes. The resulting ejections only added to the bizarre nature of the night. Available bodies were at a premium. By the time the brawl ended and the umpires had made their ejections, each team had used all of its non-pitchers.

The ejections forced Carter to play third base for the first time since 1975 and Orosco and McDowell to alternate between the outfield and the pitcher’s mound. “I always wanted to do what Whitey {Herzog} does,” Dave Johnson said, “use a pitcher in the outfield.”

(I wish I could just put the whole LA Times article here, there’s a lot of good stuff in there, but it’d be way too long. You can find another account of the game here.)

Talking about this game with my brother, he mentioned remembering a game where something similar happened to Fernando Valenzuela. Again, I looked at his BR batting page and found these two games (along with a number of pinch-hitting assignments):

  • August 17, 1982: Fernando came in to play RF in the bottom of the 20th. After the second batter of the inning popped out to Fernando, they moved him over to left. He then batted to end the top of the 21st. In the bottom half, the Dodgers replaced Fernando in left with Bob Welch (another pitcher, really?). The dodgers won in the 21st.
  • June 3, 1989: Fernando came in to play 1B in the bottom of the 21st. The first batter then popped out foul to Fernando. He stayed in to play the 22nd inning, and made another putout on a 1-3 grounder. The Astros scored a run that inning, though, and won the game.

That’s three putouts at non-pitcher positions for Fernando. Not too shabby. Of course, Fernando and Orosco are far from the only pitchers to have played in the field at some point. If their tales are at all representative, though, then there are probably some pretty good stories in there. Now, I don’t have the time to find the stories for everyone, but I can provide you with a little research.

I did a quick query, looking for anyone who pitched in more than 10 games in a given year and also played some other position. Maybe I missed a few people, but that should be a pretty complete list. Some observations:

  • The last pitcher to play a non-pitcher position was Atlanta pitcher Chris Resop, who pitched to all but one batter in the 10th inning of the Pirates-Braves game on April 3, 2008. After walking 2 of the first 3 batters of the inning, the Braves moved Resop to left so Royce Ring could face Adam LaRoche. After Ring got the K, Resop moved back to the mound to finish the inning. He got the loss.
  • Before Resop, the last player to do it was San Francisco’s Noah Lowry, on June 8, 2007. Interpreting the play-by-play, it looks like Eliezer Alfonzo was injured on a play at the plate by Donnie Murphy in the top of the 10th, so Pedro Feliz moved to catcher, Randy Winn to third, Daniel Ortmeier to center and Lowry came in to play RF. The ball didn’t come anywhere near him, though. The Giants lost to the A’s that day.
  • Since the start of the 2000 season, pitchers have played non-pitcher positions 14 times (if they moved from LF to RF, for example, in one inning, that would be counted as two different positions). If you remove Brooks Kieschnick from the equation (he started his career as an outfielder and was moved to pitcher in 2003), then it has only happened 5 times this decade.
  • It happened only slightly more often in the 1990s. In that decade, pitchers played non-pitcher positions 18 times. The most prolific year of the decade was 1993, when 5 different pitchers did it, including Randy Johnson (left-field on October 3) and Pedro Martinez (thirdbase[!!] on September 20).
  • Things changed in the 1930s. Since 1930, the decade with the most occurrences is the 1980s, with 62 (if you ignore Willie Smith’s 1964 season, when he pitched 15 times and played in the outfield 91). However, it happened 170 times in the 1920s and 207 times in the 1910s. I haven’t looked closely at those decades, but I imagine there was a lot of Babe Ruth-type stuff going on, where a player would pitch every few days and bat during the other days.
  • Finally, the recent pitcher who did it the most is Rick Waits, who DH’d for the Cleveland Indians 9 times in the lates 1970s. The illustrious Jack Morris also DH’d 7 times for the Tigers throughout the 1980s. Of all pitchers since 1930, Bucky Walters played a non-pitcher position the most (13 times in the 1930s), followed by Bobby Reis (11, 1930s), Mike Ryba (10, 1940s), and Johnny O’Brien (10 times, 1957, but he was a middle-infielder being tried at pitcher). [Update: I just did a look at Morris’ and Waits’ game logs from the times, and it actually looks like they were pinch-running almost every time. I don’t know why Baseball Reference classified some of it as DHing (they would pinch-run for the DH, so that must be it), but they did. If that’s the case, I guess I have to say that Todd Worrell is actually the recent pitcher who did it most often. In his career, he played RF in 4 different games, totalling 1.2 innings of defense. Roger McDowell also has did it 4 times, for 2.2 innings of defense (some of it detailed above). ]
Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.