James McCann

Vince Velasquez
AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson

Vince Velasquez and why the NL shouldn’t adopt the DH rule

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In general, I like to think of myself as a forward-thinking person. I wouldn’t use the word “hip,” but I don’t get stuck in my ways. I’m only in my early thirties, so get back to me in a decade and see if I’m still this way. I want to be a capable and up-to-date old person, sort of like a boomer right now who knows how to fix his own router.

That being said, the one way in which I’m retrograde is my lack of support for the DH rule. The pro-DH arguments are convincing and, I admit, rationally correct. However, I irrationally love watching pitchers hit and, in rare circumstances, play other positions. I believe I can blame Mitch Williams for this. The former Phillies closer delivered a walk-off single at 4:41 AM against the Padres back on July 2, 1993, ending the second game of a doubleheader at Veterans Stadium. As a young Phillies fan who had chronic insomnia and loved the heck out of baseball even back then, I watched the entire game, the memory of which was seared into my brain.

There were many other non-traditional performances from Phillies pitchers in the time since. Robert Person hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and nearly missed a third homer (another grand slam) against the Expos on June 2, 2002. Randy Wolf hit two homers against the Rockies on August 11, 2004. In Game 4 of the 2008 World Series against the Rays, Joe Blanton became the first pitcher since Ken Holtzman in 1974 to hit a homer in the Fall Classic. Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop listing examples.

Another great Phillies-related example was when starter Roy Oswalt played left field in a 16-inning loss to the Astros on August 24, 2010 because third base umpire Scott Barry picked a fight with Ryan Howard and ejected him. The Phillies had no bench players left, so Oswalt had to take the field. Naturally, the first ball in play went right to him, which he caught easily. The Citizens Bank Park crowd erupted in applause and Oswalt flashed a [crap]-eating grin. Oswalt came to bat with the potential to tie the game or even win the game in the bottom of the 16th. He made contact, but grounded out to end the game.

How about when Cole Hamels and Matt Cain traded home runs off of each other on national television? On July 21, 2012, Cain got the best of Hamels, leading off the top of the third inning with a home run to left field. Hamels got his revenge at the dish the very next inning, hitting a one-out solo shot off of Cain in the bottom half.

I’m sorry. Your arguments for bringing the DH to the National League are very good. Sensible, even. But you can pry my pitchers hitting home runs and pitchers playing the field out of my cold, dead hands.

I was reminded of all of this yesterday, when MLB.com’s Sarah Langs resurfaced a highlight of Phillies starter Vince Velasquez playing left field against the White Sox on August 2, 2019. Velasquez had rejoined the rotation not that long ago after a stint of about a month in the bullpen. He was in the midst of another mediocre season on the mound, entering August with a 4.40 ERA. He has always been athletic — more so than many other pitchers — so the Phillies utilized him as a pinch-runner from time to time. That’s what happened against the White Sox when this particular highlight occurred.

The Phillies and White Sox were tied 3-3 in the 13th inning. The Phillies had a minor threat going against Carson Fulmer. Pitcher Zach Eflin, who retired all six White Sox batters he faced, reached on a fielder’s choice bunt and moved to second base with Jean Segura drew a two-out walk. Seeing the potential for a win, then-manager Gabe Kapler sent Velasquez out to run for Eflin. Velasquez’s legs, though, weren’t tested as Rhys Hoskins popped out foul to end the inning.

The 14th inning began and the Phillies were out of players, and Velasquez started two days prior. So Velasquez went out to left field. Adam Haseley moved from left field to center field. And Roman Quinn moved from center field to the mound. This wasn’t Quinn’s first rodeo. He tossed an inning and two-thirds of relief the previous season, though he yielded seven runs in a 24-4 loss to the Mets. He also pitched in relief two and a half weeks prior to this night, surrendering two runs over an inning and a third in a 16-2 loss to the Dodgers.

Quinn found himself in trouble immediately, issuing a leadoff walk to José Abreu. Eloy Jiménez lined out to third base for the first out of the inning, but third baseman Maikel Franco made a wild throw attempting to double Abreu off of first base. James McCann followed up by lacing a single to Velasquez in left field. Velasquez, looking like an actual outfielder, charged the ball and made a perfect one-hop throw to J.T. Realmuto at home, nailing Abreu for the second out of the inning. As Langs noted, Statcast measured Velasquez’s throw at 94.7 MPH. Quinn got Fulmer to ground out to send the game to the bottom of the 14th. Sadly for the Phillies, they went down in order, so Velasquez had to return to left field for the 15th inning.

Things were looking good as Quinn got two easy ground outs to begin the top of the 15th. The White Sox still mounted a threat as Leury García reached on a single and Tim Anderson walked, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position. Abreu then hit another line drive to Velasquez. Velasquez again charged the ball and made another outstanding one-hop throw to home plate, but García’s speed was just a bit too much as he slid in ahead of the tag. The safe call was upheld upon replay review. The ball found Velasquez again when Jiménez smacked a sinking line drive to left field. Velasquez charged, dipped his glove, and tumbled forward to make the catch and, most importantly, protect his wrist in the process. Many a player has broken his wrist attempting such a grab. Velasquez maintained his health and kept it a one-run deficit with the grab, given an elusive five-star rating by MLB.com, as the game headed to the bottom of the 15th. Alas, the Phillies went down in order once again and the White Sox won, 4-3.

I know, objectively, I’m wrong for wanting to keep the DH out of the National League. In aggregate, there just aren’t enough cool pitchers-hitting or pitchers-fielding moments to outweigh the momentum they suck out of the game. Nor do they outweigh the injury risk players face from doing jobs they haven’t been regularly trained to perform. But I’ve been hooked from a handful of absolutely incredible, odds-defying moments throughout my life. You can have your DH who cranks out 40 home runs every season. I will keep my pitchers who hit .130 and who mostly suck in the field just for the off-chance that something amazing happens when they’re doing something they’re not supposed to be doing.