When a position player is forced into action in mop-up duty at the end of a 17-5 blowout loss, as was the case for the Modesto Nuts on Friday, it’s cute.
It’s a novelty, and it’s something fans will remember.
But when the same team comes back the next night and is forced to use a position player on the mound to start the 10th inning, it’s not cute.
Instead, it’s embarrassing, and a lot of baseball-watchers across the country will wonder how a situation got so bad that a team chose to go the non-competitive route in the final weekend of the season.
In case you missed it, the Nuts blew a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning on Saturday night against Stockton, with Rayan Gonzalez unable to convert the save.
Because the Nuts gave up 17 runs and had blown through their bullpen on Friday night, the few arms available to pitch on Saturday had been used. Modesto got six innings in an excellent spot start for Tyler Gagnon, but Huascar Brazoban had be be pulled after walking three batters, and the one inning available for Alving Mejias was used to get one batter.
Still, the Nuts were in position to get the win when set-up man Bruce Kern worked a perfect eighth to give the two-run lead to closer Gonzalez.
But when the Ports tied the game in the ninth and the Nuts’ failed to answer, designated hitter Dean Espy climbed the hill to pitch the 10th.
And all of this happened while five Modesto pitchers remained in their chairs in the raised bullpen. They were healthy and likely willing to pitch, but the options of Modesto manager Don Sneddon were tied by the developmental rules attached to every arm.
“There was nobody who could have thrown last night based on the rules we have concerning pitch counts,” Sneddon said.
“Peter Tago had to have a day off because he threw 35 pitches on Friday and Jacob Newberry (who pitched Friday) had to have the next day off every time he pitches. Jon Keck threw 30 pitches (on Friday) and needed a day off. We used Mejias for the few pitches he was able to throw, so we literally had nothing.”
Sometime in tight situations starting pitchers can be called upon to throw an inning or two between starts. Modesto didn’t have that option since Mike Piazza came up sore after his start. Devin Burke, Friday’s starter, was allowed to leave the team to return to Virginia Tech for the fall semester.
“Still, it worked out perfectly for us until it came time to finish the game in the ninth. It wasn’t a good situation and certainly not a situation I want to be in.”
The rules are understandable. Colorado has all of its minor league arms on work restrictions for the purpose of best developing their talents while minimizing wear and exposure to injury.
On the other hand, there will be rare situations during the season when one of those arms will need to be called into action outside of the planned use, and Saturday was one of those situations.
Personally, and here’s my rant, I see no philosophical difference between Modesto pitching a position player in the 10th inning of a tied game and what Stockton did against the Nuts on June 23, 2012. That was the night the Ports blew through their bullpen and several relievers before asking a position player to go to the mound in the 17th and 18th innings and commit intentional balks for the purpose of ending the game.
The Ports manager that night, current Chicago White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson, defended his actions, saying his intent was to protect his players from injury.
But isn’t that exactly the reason the Rockies are using for not clearing their relievers for action in these exceptional cases?
Following that game two years ago, California League president Charlie Blaney suspended and fined Steverson for “compromising the integrity of the game.”
On that night two years ago it was Steverson’s call as to how to proceed when he ran out of pitchers. On Friday and Saturday, Modesto’s Sneddon was following the orders given to him by his supervisors.
“I’ve never had to do this - ever - in my career, and I’m very uncomfortable doing it, and don’t like doing it,” Sneddon said. “The safety of our pitchers and their arms is more important than winning a ballgame, and that takes precedence.”