MLB denies that it’s specifically targeting Braun, but the denial rings hollow

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Yesterday Bob Nightengale reported that Major League Baseball was targeting Ryan Braun in the Biogenesis investigation, to the point where it was willing to grant other players immunity — and sacrifice most of its drug enforcement principles — in order to take Braun down.

Later in the day, however, MLB’s Rob Manfred denied that. From Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journel-Sentinel:

Major League Baseball executive vice president Rob Manfred denied that MLB has targeted Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun specifically in its investigation of the Biogenesis clinic in Miami, as suggested by a USA Today article.

“Everyone whose name has surfaced surrounding the Miami New Times story and Biogenesis is being investigated with equal vigor,” Manfred said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel.

Which would be great if now other reporters, also well-connected ones like Nightengale, weren’t continuing to hear otherwise. Here’s Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan from last night:

Major League Baseball is honing in on Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun as two main targets for potential discipline as it prepares to interview players about the Biogenesis clinic … Multiple sources said the league has discussed offers of immunity to major league players, though none has been officially offered … The league has interviewed players not on 40-man rosters, and one such player told Yahoo! Sports he was offered immunity in exchange for information about Biogenesis. [emphasis added]

Passan’s report backs Nightengale’s account way more than it backs a situation in which MLB’s claim that everyone is being investigated with “equal vigor.”

As I said yesterday, baseball can do whatever it wants. But if it is granting immunity to some players it is abandoning its zero tolerance policies and turning the drug enforcement program into a totally different animal than they have long claimed it to be.

More position players have pitched this year than ever

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Yesterday, in Milwaukee, utilityman Hernan Perez pitched two scoreless innings, and backup catcher Erik Kratz pitched one himself, mopping up in a blowout loss to the Dodgers. In doing so they became the 31st and 32nd position players to pitch this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most position players who have taken the mound in a season in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961. Presumably far fewer ever did so when the league had only 16 teams.

It’s pretty remarkable to set that record now, in this age of 13 and sometimes 14-man pitching staffs. That’s especially true when teams shuttle guys back and forth from the minors more often than they ever have before and when, due to the shortened, 10-day disabled list, it’s easier to give guys breaks because of “injuries” than it ever has been.

Pitcher usage is driving this, however. While teams carry far more relievers than they ever have before, they actually carry far fewer swingmen or mopup men who are capable of throwing multiple innings in a blowout to save other pitchers’ arms. Rather, teams focus on max-effort, high-velocity relievers who go one or two innings tops, thus requiring catchers and utility guys to help do the mopping that actual pitchers used to do.

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing necessarily — some of these backup catchers throw harder than a lot of pitchers did 30 years ago and it’s always kind of fun to see a position player pitch — but it is yet another way the game has changed due to a focus on specialization and velocity when it comes to pitchers.