Saturday, August 24, 2019

Inside The Game: What Goes Into Having A Pitcher Pinch-Hit

Mets pitchers in the batting cage. Photo by Jason Schott.

In Friday night's Mets' loss to the Atlanta Braves, 2-1 in 14 innings, each team was forced to use starting pitchers as pinch-hitters in the later innings.

The Braves used Julio Teheran in the top of the 12th inning, and Max Fried in the top of the 14th, while the Mets used Steven Matz in the bottom of the 14th.

This is becoming more common as teams carry just three position players on their bench. The Mets also had to insert catcher Wilson Ramos into the game when Thomas Nido had to exit after getting hit in the head.

The Mets used their last position player in the 11th when Aaron Altherr pinch-hit for the pitchers' spot with two on and two out.

Matz, who is a .256 hitter (11-for-43) with a home run, this season, came up with one out in the bottom of the 14th - their final at-bat - and hit one deep in the hole at third base, and he nearly beat it out.

Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said of what goes into the decision to have a pitcher come off the bench for an at-bat, "We knew, if we continued to play (past the 11th when Altherr hit) that we were going to need the pitcher to hit. I think we told Steven nine batters ahead that, 'hey, it's looking likely, if we continue to hold them and they hold us, that you're going to get an at-bat,' so we give them a heads-up, a two, two-and-a-half inning heads-up so they can go in, get prepped, get stretched, take a couple of swings in the cage so they're not at risk to pulling something. 

"It's something you have to do occasionally; when you're playing 14 innings, a pitcher's gonna likely to end up hitting because that's how the roster works, and it's something that, it's good to be able to give them a heads-up, so thinking proactively there is big just for the health of the pitcher because the last thing you want to do is get one of your starting pitchers hurt."

On when he decided on Matz being the starter to take the at-bat, Callaway said, "I think, going into the game, you kind of figure out who's going to be your guy. (Zack) Wheeler would have been a great option there, but he's pitching today, so you don't want to hit the pitcher that's pitching today because, if he pulls something, you're gonna be scrambling to even find a starter."

Interesting to note that Atlanta used Max Fried as a pinch-hitter Friday and he is their starting pitcher Saturday night.

"You pick a guy that's a couple days away," said Callaway, "and hasn't just pitched and is probably tired, most-rested pitcher that can hit. You send him up there and hope he hits a homer. I was hoping we'd have two homers from two pitchers."

Callaway was referencing how Friday night's starting pitcher, Jacob deGrom, hit a solo home run in the sixth inning to tie the game at that time.

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