Swing, then miss it: MLB pitchers could bat for final time

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA- Grinning the whole time, Zack Greinke slipped into his Astros warmup jacket, joked with Freddie Freeman and got a friendly pat from the Atlanta star first baseman.

Who doesn’t like to see a pitcher get a hit?

Enjoy those fun moments while you can, fans. Because after Game 5 of the World Series, they could become almost extinct.

There’s a good chance Major League Baseball will bring the designated hitter to the National League next year – likely forever. That means Sunday night’s game at Truist Park might mark the final time a pitcher ever appears in a big league batting order.

“I think it’s definitely going to be pretty special that this could be the last pitchers ever hitting in baseball. We’ve definitely brought it up,” Braves starter Ian Anderson said.

No more Madison Bumgarner swinging for the fences. No more Bartolo Colon flailing and losing his helmet – or shocking everyone by going deep. No more Greinke grounding a single up the middle, as he did Saturday night in Game 4.

Say goodbye to double switches. Sacrifice bunts would shrivel up and automatic intentional walks to face the pitcher would vanish, too. So would the risk of a $20 million ace pulling his hamstring while running the bases.

Plus, the little nuances that would disappear: the bat boy running out a warmup jacket to the pitcher at first base, the on-deck hitter lingering near the batter’s box to give his hurler more time to walk back to the dugout.

More than a century of strategy and baseball fabric, ripped away.

“Once it ever changes to no DH, then it will probably never change back, and that’s something that would sadden me,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

Good riddance, says Houston shortstop Carlos Correa.

“To me, that’s not real baseball,” he said Saturday. “I want to see real hitters out there.”

Sure, a few pitchers might get an at-bat here and there, maybe in extra innings when teams run out of position players.

So who knows, maybe the Hall of Fame will get the bat Framber Valdez uses when he starts Game 5 for Houston. The Braves plan a bullpen game, so it’s possible none of their pitchers will hit.

“To be honest with you, the last time that I hit was in the regular season in San Diego, I thought I was done hitting,” Valdez said through a translator Saturday.

“Fourteen or 15 was the last time that I hit regularly in a league. I liked to hit in that era,” he said. “It’s a little bit different hitting as a pitcher here in the big leagues. So I still like hitting in softball back home in the Dominican, but hitting as a major league pitcher, I don’t like it.”

The DH debate has raged since 1973, when Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees became the first player to fill the role. It continues to this day, when American League teams often feel at a disadvantage when the World Series shifts to an NL park.

Holding a 3-1 lead, the Braves hope to clinch the crown Sunday night. If not, the scene moves back to a DH setup at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Since the DH era began, the only pitchers to homer in the World Series have been Joe Blanton for Philadelphia in 2008 and Ken Holtzman for Oakland in 1974.

Overall, pitchers are just 3 for 49 (.061) at the plate this postseason.

Not that many pitchers do a lot of damage at other times, either – besides Shohei Ohtani, of course. Big league hurlers hit a collective .108 this season. Max Scherzer, who used to handle the bat fairly well, was a whopping 0 for 62 for the Dodgers and Washington, didn’t safely reach base once and struck out half the time.

Greinke, meanwhile, does fine at the plate. So much so that Baker moved him from the pitcher’s customary ninth spot in the batting order to eighth in Game 4.

The only other pitcher who didn’t bat ninth in the World Series was Babe Ruth back in 1918. Greinke responded with the first hit by a pitcher in the Fall Classic since Cleveland’s Corey Kluber in 2016.

“Some of the guys don’t miss it, some pitchers. And there’s some pitchers that absolutely miss it. Like Greinke, he’s dying to hit,” Baker said earlier this week.

Baker would prefer to see things stay the way they are.

“I’m in favor of leaving it the way it is. Let the DH stand in the American League, and in the National League play the National League style of ball because they’re both interesting,” he said.

Braves reliever Jesse Chavez agreed.

“My personal opinion, I think it should stay the same. I think it’s beneficial for the game because it adds two different aspects. It’s a chess game out there. It’s not checkers,” he explained.

Braves manager Brian Snitker has spent four decades in the Atlanta system at all levels as a player, coach and skipper. He admits he would miss the double switches, bunts and other aspects of National League strategy.

But after watching the NL use the DH in 2020 during the pandemic-shortened season, he saw a lot to like.

“I just see so many pitchers now that go to the plate and, No. 1, they don’t want to,” Snitker said. “Honestly, I think it will be a better game to watch. It will be more action, more stuff going on.”

“Prior to experiencing it last year, I was kind of like the old guard. I was not for it. I am for it now,” he added. “Because I see for every Max Fried and Adam Wainwright and Madison Bumgarner, there’s 15 guys who can’t hit. Again, they don’t grow up hitting. They grow up pitching, and they’re not hitting.”

Report: Brandon Nimmo staying with Mets on 8-year, $162M deal

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK – Center fielder Brandon Nimmo is staying with the free-spending New York Mets, agreeing to an eight-year, $162 million contract, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement is subject to a successful physical and no announcement had been made.

A quality leadoff hitter with an excellent eye and a .385 career on-base percentage, Nimmo became a free agent last month for the first time. He was a key performer as the Mets returned to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2016.

The left-handed hitter batted .274 with 16 homers and a team-high 102 runs, a career high. He also set career bests with 64 RBIs and 151 games played. His seven triples tied for most in the National League.

Bringing back Nimmo means New York is poised to return its entire everyday lineup intact from a team that tied for fifth in the majors in runs and won 101 regular-season games – second-most in franchise history.

But the Mets remain busy replenishing a pitching staff gutted by free agency, including Jacob deGrom‘s departure for Texas and Taijuan Walker‘s deal with Philadelphia that was pending a physical.

On the final day of baseball’s winter meetings Wednesday, the Mets completed an $86.7 million, two-year contract with former Houston ace Justin Verlander that includes a conditional $35 million player option for 2025. New York also retained All-Star closer Edwin Diaz last month with a $102 million, five-year contract, and the team has a $26 million, two-year agreement in place with veteran starter Jose Quintana, pending a physical.

Those moves add to a payroll that was the largest in the majors last season. Under owner Steve Cohen, who bought the Mets in November 2020, New York became baseball’s biggest spender this year for the first time since 1989. The Mets’ payroll was $273.9 million as of Aug. 31, with final figures that include bonuses yet to be compiled.

Nimmo was selected by New York with the No. 13 pick in the 2011 amateur draft. He declined a $19.65 million qualifying offer from the Mets last month.

The 29-year-old Wyoming native made his big league debut in 2016. He is a .269 career hitter with 63 homers, 213 RBIs and 23 triples in 608 games. He has an .827 career OPS and has improved his play in center, becoming a solid defender.

Nimmo’s new deal with the Mets was first reported by the New York Post.