Matt Davidson pulled a Babe Ruth on Monday night.
Generally, when you do something only The Bambino has done on a baseball field, that’s a good thing. At least it’s noteworthy.
Davidson made his third pitching appearance of the 2018 season in the White Sox loss to the visiting New York Yankees, a fulfillment of the desire he expressed after his previous outing not two weeks ago, when he said he hoped to explore an expansion of his pitching role.
He recorded his third scoreless inning in as many outings. His career ERA is still an unblemished 0.00. He struck out Giancarlo Stanton, who launched a major league best 59 home runs in 2017.
Oh, and he joined The Babe.
15+ Home Runs & 3 pitching appearances in a season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 7, 2018
American League history
2018 Matt Davidson 16 HR, 3 pitching appearances
1919 Babe Ruth 29 HR, 17 pitching appearances
2018 Shohei Ohtani is close (11 HR, 9 pitching appearances)
Position players taking the mound has historically been a humorous affair, but it’s becoming more and more common as teams routinely exhaust their bullpen pitchers. It means throwing a position player out there is a more strategic option that straining another inning of relief out of an arm that might be needed in a high-leverage situation in a future game.
During the White Sox now-concluded four-game winning streak, Rick Renteria used a lot of relief pitchers in close games. He used five Thursday against the Kansas City Royals, then five, three and five in a weekend sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a lot of work for those arms. So, down seven runs in the ninth inning Monday, Davidson became a way to buy an extra day of rest for at least one of those pitchers.
“I don’t know how many days we’ve had on recently, but (pitching coach Don Cooper) said, ‘If this game gets a little bit more out of hand, we probably want to send you to the bullpen for these two days before the off day.’ Like we said, we won four straight, we were using matchups a lot, and the guys were working hard in getting outs and getting big outs in those situations,” Davidson said. “It’s cool to give them a break.”
Renteria is far from the only manager doing this. Just prior to Davidson’s third appearance of the campaign, Major League Baseball saw its 50th outing by a position player this season. Davidson only raised that number.
And while this is a strategy almost exclusively employed in games with lopsided scores, it’s not something only sub-.500 teams like the White Sox are doing. You don’t have to go back too far in July to get to the first-place Cubs using four different position players to pitch in one weekend.
Renteria stopped short of calling this baseball’s new normal, but it sure is a popular trend at this point. And having a player like Davidson on the roster, a position player who can do more than just throw batting practice — and now one of four position players since 1973 to start their pitching careers with three scoreless outings (per STATS LLC) — can be a valuable piece.
“Listen I don’t know if it’s a new normal,” Renteria said. “I’ve done it before, not as often as we’ve done it this year already. I think that the way and depending on how bullpens are used and how many you end up riding for a period of time, sometimes you need a respite, and you hope you can put someone in there who will be able to throw the ball over the plate. You don’t want to make it an embarrassing type of situation. Matty is able to at least throw strikes and has a couple of secondary pitches that seem to be fairly effective.
“When the need calls, if you happen to have a guy like Matty who can do that, then it’s worth doing it because you know he’s going to at least throw the ball over the plate. They have a chance of putting the ball in play, we have a chance to make plays. Sometimes you may not have that luxury, and as much as you want to keep it from becoming an embarrassing situation, you do it because it’s what needed at the particular time.”
Davidson’s talked before — he’s had two other opportunities — about his boyhood dreams of being a big league pitcher, and his experience pitching in high school is paying off big time now as he helps save the White Sox bullpen.
Monday, he didn’t exactly throw a no-hitter or get a big save. But he did toss a scoreless inning against the New York Yankees, something that probably didn’t seem too likely to happen just a couple of years ago.
“I’m enjoying it, it’s fun. I’ve said before that really it was a passion of mine growing up. It’s something that I did all the way through high school,” Davidson said. “I’ve said before, that was the dream for me, was pitching in the big leagues, growing up. Every kid dreams about hitting that walk-off home run, and I was dreaming about sticking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. So it is a dream.”
Matt Davidson's career ERA: 0.00— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) August 7, 2018
nbd 💪 pic.twitter.com/qH9zTAHyVB
The dream is now a reality for Davidson. And if baseball keeps going in this direction, it will be a reality for plenty of other position players, too.