Neighborhood play

The umpires let the Mets challenge a “neighborhood play” last night. They’re not supposed to do that.

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The “neighborhood play” — where the middle infielder catches the ball off the bag, throws to first base in an attempt to both avoid an incoming runner and complete a double-play, and is nonetheless given credit for the force out — is not reviewable by instant replay. And this makes perfect sense as, if it were, some manager would force replay officials to note that, no, technically speaking the bag was not tagged and the runner was thus safe, thereby creating an incentive for middle infielders to stick in longer and have their knees mangled.

But in last night’s Braves-Mets game there was a play that looked an awful lot like a neighborhood play turned by the Braves which was challenged by Mets manager Terry Collins. And, upon review, the initial call of a force out at second was overturned.

Watch the play here. If you can’t watch it, know that, in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied and a runner on first, the Mets’ Juan Lagares dropped a sacrifice bunt attempt down the third-base line. Braves third baseman Chris Johnson fielded it and fired to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, covering second base. Simmons stretched to receive the throw, dodged the baserunner and then fired to first base. The baserunner coming from first was ruled out on the force, while Lagares beat the throw at first. If you watch the play, it looks an awful lot like a neighborhood play.

Except Terry Collins challenged the call at second, arguing that Simmons didn’t keep his foot on the bag through his catch. And the umpires reviewed it, the repay showed that Simmons’ foot was off the bag and everyone was called safe. Fredi Gonzalez came out to argue and was ejected. Major League Baseball issued a statement after the game:

“The replay regulations allow umpires to determine if they considered a play to be a neighborhood play or not, based on a variety of factors. Some of the factors they consider are the throw and if the player receiving the ball is making the turn. Umpires might consider whether it was an errant throw or if a player receiving a throw who is not at risk of contact made an effort to touch the bag.”

Again, watch the play and try to tell me that Simmons was not trying to avoid a runner bearing down. The umpires said after the game that Simmons was not moving off the bag to protect himself, but that he was really set up like a first baseman and was really trying to get an errant throw. But watch again: the throw was perfectly on-target. At worst Simmons was doing what a lot of first baseman and taking a step off as he fielded the throw. What he was likely thinking and doing on instinct, however, was coming off the bag to make a turn and fire to first, just like he and every other middle infielder is trained to do in order to, you know, not have his ACLs ripped apart.

This didn’t end up mattering in the outcome of the game, but it was a bad call. At the very least it will inspire managers to challenge more of these plays, undercutting the rule about neighborhood plays not being reviewable (“Hey, just trying to see if it was a neighborhood play in the first place!”). At worst, it will create an incentive for middle infielders to stick on the bag longer to the detriment of their safety.

Justin Verlander: “I’d like to see the AL and NL have the same rules… I vote NL rules.”

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 10:  Starting pitcher Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the first inning at Safeco Field on August 10, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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On Thursday afternoon, Rays pitcher Chris Archer asked his Twitter followers, “Lots swirling around what needs to be changed about the game of baseball. What do y’all want to see changed, if anything, & why?”

Tigers ace Justin Verlander responded:

To that, Archer said:

For what it’s worth, Verlander hasn’t been much of a hitter. In 47 career plate appearances, he has three singles and no extra-base hits. And if the AL did get rid of the DH rule, the Tigers would have nowhere to put Victor Martinez. Verlander, though, would have an easier time pitching to opposing pitchers rather than their DH’s.

Rusney Castillo disappoints again by not running out a routine grounder

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 18:  Rusney Castillo #38 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after he was caught off third base for the third out of the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on August 18, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox inked Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract back in August 2014. Over parts of three seasons, the 29-year-old has a .679 OPS across 337 plate appearances in the majors and spent the vast majority of the 2016 season at Triple-A Pawtucket.

Castillo had a chance to start things off on the right foot in 2017, but that ship has already sailed. On Thursday against Northeastern at JetBlue Park, Castillo didn’t run out a routine ground ball. He claims he lost track of the outs. Manager John Farrell isn’t happy about the situation. Via Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald:

“Disappointing for a couple of reasons,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “One, he has lost the number of outs. Still, regardless of another of outs, getting down the line is controllable. And for a player in his situation, every little aspect of the game is important. That’s something that was addressed in the moment. He needs to execute the game situation. And for that matter, every player. But that one obviously stood out.”

Everyone always makes far too big a deal about running out grounders. It’s a real nit to pick when it’s February 23 and your team just finished playing an exhibition game that is even more meaningless than the other exhibition games that will be played in the coming month.

That being said, Castillo has to prove himself to merit inclusion on the 25-man roster and that means dotting all his i’s and crossing all his t’s. Even if he went hitless all spring, Castillo could have at least said he couldn’t have done anything else better. But on day one, he already gave his team a reason to count him out.