White Sox

Matt Davidson pulls a Babe Ruth, continues to be poster child for baseball's position player pitching trend

Matt Davidson pulls a Babe Ruth, continues to be poster child for baseball's position player pitching trend

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.

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.”

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.

White Sox Talk Podcast: A.J. Reed: 'It's good to be someplace where you feel wanted'

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: A.J. Reed: 'It's good to be someplace where you feel wanted'

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with new White Sox slugger A.J. Reed.

Could he be the left power DH the White Sox have been searching for? (1:20)

Reed talks about why he feels relieved and reborn getting this opportunity with the White Sox (8:05), what's prevented him from being the major league player he wants to be (9:15), why the Astros gave up on him (14:00) and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

 

White Sox Talk Podcast

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Reynaldo Lopez offers hope for improved second half with quality start in Oakland

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez offers hope for improved second half with quality start in Oakland

Reynaldo Lopez had a first half to forget, but the White Sox pitcher had a strong first start in the second half.

Lopez struck out seven while giving up only an unearned run in six innings of work in Oakland. He settled for a no-decision after the bullpen couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead for him.

The right-hander entered the game with the highest ERA among qualified starters. Six innings later with no earned runs and Lopez has passed that title on to Toronto’s Aaron Sanchez.

Only one other time this season has Lopez had a start without allowing an earned run. That was April 28 against Detroit when Lopez struck out 14 batters in six innings.

He threw 62 of his 93 pitches for strikes and got 17 swinging strikes. The swinging strikes were below his season average whiff rate, which was 22.6 percent entering Sunday, but he threw far more strikes than his season average.

Lopez, 25, got fans excited with a decent 2018 season that featured a 3.91 ERA. However, his strikeout rate is up (8.05 K/9 in 2019 vs. 7.2 in 2018) and walk rate is down (3.46 BB/9 in 2019 vs. 3.58 in 2018) compared to last year. He’s just getting hit much harder this season.

It was just one start, but Lopez offered some hope for him being a different pitcher in the second half, as he said after his previous start on July 4.

Meanwhile, the White Sox lost 3-2 to complete a series sweep for the A’s. Eloy Jimenez hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh, but the A’s answered with a Ramon Laureano solo shot off Evan Marshall in the bottom half. Then, the A’s opened the ninth with a pair of blooped singles and won the game on a throwing error by Jose Rondon.

The White Sox were also swept in Oakland last year and have lost eight straight in Oakland Coliseum.

 

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