Angels protest Astros’ illegal switch, win game anyway

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Here’s a new one: with the Angels batting with two on and two out in the seventh inning Thursday, the Astros went to bring in left-hander Wesley Wright to face left-hander J.B. Shuck. The Angels promptly countered with right-handed hitting Luis Jimenez.

And then the Astros suddenly countered with right-hander Hector Ambriz.

If that sounds unusual, well, it is. If it sounds illegal, well, it’s that, too. Except Astros rookie manager Bo Porter didn’t know it. And it seems Fieldin Culbreth’s umpiring crew didn’t know it either, even with Angels manager Mike Scioscia loudly pointing it out several times before play finally resumed several minutes later.

Make no mistake, Wright was in the game. He threw several warmup pitches before Porter went out to bring in Ambriz instead. That, of course, isn’t allowed, according to Rule 3.05. Barring an injury, any pitcher that enters a game has to face at least one batter. It’s a fairly well known rule, one that would surely be exploited frequently if it didn’t exist.

The Angels, down 5-3 at the time, immediately protested the game. It’s a protest that might have actually been upheld by the league, given that it the mistake was entirely an umpire’s error, with no judgment call being involved. Except now we’ll never find out. While Ambriz was able to escape the jam in the seventh after the illegal switch, the Angels came back and scored three runs in the eighth and won the game 6-5, essentially rendering the protest null and void.

In one way, that’s probably for the best; the Astros didn’t deserve to benefit from their illegal move. Still, it is rather too bad we didn’t see MLB’s first successful protest since 1986. Had the protest been upheld, the game would have restarted from the moment the illegal move was made, with Wright back on the mound and the Angels trailing in the top of the seventh inning.

Phillies, RHP Taijuan Walker reportedly agree to 4-year deal

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – The active Philadelphia Phillies added Taijuan Walker to their rotation on Tuesday, agreeing to a $72 million, four-year contract with the right-hander.

A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed the move to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was pending a physical.

It was the second major free-agent score for the Phillies at the winter meetings after they reeled in shortstop Trea Turner on Monday with a $300 million, 11-year deal. Walker and Turner join a Phillies team that made it to the World Series this year before losing to the Houston Astros.

The 30-year-old Walker went 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts this season for the New York Mets, one of Philadelphia’s biggest NL East rivals. He slots into a rotation fronted by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

The Phillies recently lost pitcher Zach Eflin in free agency to Tampa Bay.

Asked about the market for Walker earlier in the day, agent Scott Boras said it was robust.

“As you can see in the marketplace, there’s a whole number of pitchers that are throwing 60 and 70 innings that have been pursued, probably with the exception of (Jacob) deGrom, at the lower end of threshold around $13-15 million a year because the demand for quality pitching is so great,” Boras said.

“So, Tai … is one of the younger ones, one of the more durable ones and we expect him to be pursued greatly as his market unfolds.”

Walker was selected by Seattle with the No. 43 pick in the 2010 amateur draft. He made his big league debut with the Mariners in 2013.

Walker signed with New York as a free agent in February 2021. He turned down a $7.5 million player option last month in favor of a $3 million buyout, making his deal worth $17 million over two seasons.

The 6-foot-4 Walker made the All-Star team for the first time in 2021, putting together a fast start before fading to a 7-11 record with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games, 29 starts.