A couple of years ago, MLB did a nice thing, accommodating teams with doubleheaders by allowing them to play with a 26th man for the day. Of course, one of the reasons it took so long for the rule to come about is that the league knew that no matter how it tried to structure the rule, MLB teams would seek to exploit it.
Take, for example, the 2014 Baltimore Orioles and Kevin Gausman. On Wednesday night, Gausman pitched six scoreless innings as part of a 2-0 shutout of the Rays. On Friday night, he was demoted back to Triple-A, not because he’s out of the rotation, but because the Orioles saw a chance to game the system. Since the 26th man in doubleheaders is not beholden to the 10-day rule (players optioned to the minors must stay there for 10 days unless being recalled to replace an injured player), Gausman can be recalled to start next Friday in the Orioles’ doubleheader against the Rays.
The original plan was for Gausman to start next Wednesday instead, but since the Orioles have six starters, shuffling things around for him to go Friday was no problem. Making the move gives them an extra middle reliever (Brad Brach) to use in the series against the Yankees and White Sox, and depending on what they want to do with Gausman after his start next Friday, essentially allows them to play with an extra roster spot for a week and a half, putting their opponents at a disadvantage.
That certainly wasn’t MLB’s intention in crafting the rule. But, then, MLB typically does a lousy job of crafting rules, as we’ve seen with some of the replay/plate blocking stuff this year and we’ll see again on July 1, when the Yankees dominate international signing day. The Orioles are hardly the first to try to use the 26th man rule for a several-day advantage and they won’t be the last. Plus, as far as these things go, it’s far less distasteful that placing a starting pitcher on the bereavement list a day after his start and activating him the day before his next start. It’s on MLB to tighten up the 26th man rule, if it cares to do so.