PITTSBURGH – Is there a parallel between Major League Baseball pitchers attempting to engage in offense and anything else in major professional sports?
In what other realm are specialists in one discipline expected to contribute in a completely different aspect of their sport? It’s like if hockey goalies were asked to take the opening faceoff of every period, or if football punters had to throw a pass every quarter.
While we contemplate that absurdity, pitchers hitting and running the bases remains a reality for all games competed in National League ballparks, so there’s no use arguing about it.
Anyway, it’s not completely bereft of interesting moments, like when Jameson Taillon slugged a Tanner Roark fastball for an RBI double in Monday’s Pirates loss at Washington.
Taillon's RBI double (00:48)
— Ballpark Videos (@BallparkVids) May 1, 2018
Impressive, although rare. Taillon’s first career extra-base hit raised his batting line in the majors to .138/.138/.150. That’s an OPS+ of minus-23, or 123 percent below the average NL hitter, although Taillon now had two run-scoring hits this season, both of them scorching line drives.
“I just blacked out and started running,” Taillon told reporters Monday night at Nationals Park, although Clint Hurdle gave more credit: “He hit the tar out of that ball.”
But that wasn’t the most notable moment of the week for a Pirates pitcher out of his element.
Last Friday, Chad Kuhl’s pinch-running stint in the ninth inning at PNC Park proved critical, as he scored the tying run from first base on Jordy Mercer’s double that Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham mishandled. The Pirates went on to win in the 11th inning, starting a three-game weekend sweep that took first place away from St. Louis.
Fast-forward to 1:20 of the video below for a refresher on the wild scene:
Not the smoothest 270-foot trip home for Kuhl, but a memorable one in his first pinch-running appearance.
“At first I was like, ‘Run, run!'” said Mercer, who nearly ran up Kuhl’s back when the pitcher hesitated between first and second. “Because when (Pham) picked it up, he didn’t have a handle on it. I don’t know. It’s a pitcher, bro. Pitchers are all jacked up. That’s the way they are. It worked out, though. It was great.”
It’s unclear whether Kuhl made it home faster than Colin Moran, the man he replaced on the bases.
“It’s no disrespect to Colin,” Hurdle said. “Chad’s just faster, and he’s the tying run, and you never know if a ball will get hit like the ball that got hit. He doesn’t have a lot of experience on the bases, but it worked out for us tonight.”
There might have been some chuckles in the clubhouse after the feel-good win, but there was some honest-to-goodness admiration mixed in, too.
“I was just glad he got there and (didn’t) blow out,” Corey Dickerson quipped, before turning a little more serious.
“He seemed like he kinda knew what he was doing out there. … You got a lot going through your mind already. Coach tells you what not to run on and what to run on. You’ve got those things going through your mind and you’re trying to figure them out as the ball is hit. It’s hard not to panic if you’re not out there, used to it. We (position players) are all used to it and it’s second nature. It’s not second nature for him.”
Kuhl took most of the ribbing from his fellow pitchers, particularly in regards to running form.
“He’s got really choppy steps,” Steven Brault said, glancing over to Kuhl’s empty locker. “I actually talked about that with him as he came back in.”
Apologies to Kuhl and Taillon, but if we had to choose a couple of Pirates pitchers who could help the team’s cause with their non-pitching abilities, Brault and Tyler Glasnow would be atop that list.
Brault, a former centerfielder at Division II Regis University, doesn’t have a pinch-running appearance in the books yet, but he has pinch-hit in each of the past two seasons and he has yet to strike out in the first 32 plate appearances as a Pirate. Believe it or not, that’s the best streak to start a major-league career since 1940.
In a rare show of at-bat frustration for a pitcher, Brault (career batting line: .226/.226/.258) actually seemed upset last Friday after St. Louis righty Miles Mikolas “busted him inside” to retire him in his only plate trip.
“I just don’t like striking out in general,” Brault said. “Keeping that (streak) is cool. I’d rather get a hit. I wasn’t happy when I got out, but (the streak is) cool.”
The 6-foot-8 Glasnow pinch-ran three times last year, and his .231/.355/.231 line in 32 career plate trips probably qualifies him for ‘best all-around athlete’ status on the pitching staff, since Iván Nova and Trevor Williams are both sub-.100 hitters at this level. (Although, one wonders what the lithe Felipe Vásquez could do with a little more opportunity.)
Both Glasnow and Brault were unavailable for that high-leverage pinch-run chance last Friday, since both had pitched previously that night, so that left Glasnow to wonder how he might’ve handled Kuhl’s predicament.
“I’d beat him in a sprint, I know that,” Glasnow said. “I’d get him on stride length.”
Don’t misunderstand. These pitchers know their places, but that doesn’t take away from their pride in providing some unexpected value … even when it’s not the most graceful performance you’ve ever seen.
“We do what we can, without getting in the way, but we like to have fun with it,” Brault said. “We work on our swings and our bunts. It’s a lot of fun, actually. It helps our team when we’re not a fully easy out.
“That’s kind of the versatility our team wants to have. We want guys who are comfortable in roles they’re not used to.”