The Red Sox will start a two-game interleague series in Philadelphia Wednesday night. With that comes that darned National League rule — no designated hitter, which always creates such angst with American League managers and pitchers in particular.
For that reason we have reached the point of saying let’s just make this uniform. Take your pick — all DH or no DH.
This reporter prefers all DH.
The DH turned 40 years old this season and it’s been neat all these years that the NL and AL played slightly different baseball.
The NL had the pitcher hit. The AL had the DH. There have been no major moves to change that, though lately there’s been more banter about adopting uniformity.
There’s no question the DH has done what it was supposed to do — add offense. It’s also increased the time of games and extended the careers of players, sometimes long past their prime.
And for the longest time we’ve been OK with that.
But the more you see interleague play evolve the more you start thinking, don’t fans really want to see offense? Whatever strategy there is in the NL game, it’s not often exciting strategy. It mostly involves when the pitcher needs to bunt and when the manager needs to pinch-hit for the pitcher. Pitchers are still outs. Do we really want to see outs?
“I like it the way it is,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “I like that we can do what we do and they can do what they do. When we’re in the American League, we have the disadvantage and when we’re in the National League, we have the advantage. What’s wrong with that?”
Nothing. It could go another 40 years, really. It’s just the novelty of it being different is over. It’s 40 years of the same thing. We get it, the NL games are quicker because pitchers make outs. The AL scores more runs. The lineups are tougher on pitchers.
“It makes you change your starting pitcher,” Manuel said.
Is that good or bad?
“Well, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad,” Manuel said.
Manuel loves hitting. He’s a hitting savant. As an NL manager, he probably has to take the stance he takes, but who wouldn’t want nine quality hitters in their lineup?
If there was no interleague play, you could make the case to keep the status quo. But now it seems everything is running into one another. Interleague play is throughout the season and then in October we have the World Series.
Here’s why I’d like to see uniformity — I want to see NL lineups improve. It creates more offense. Pitchers have to work harder to get outs.
“It also makes cowards out of pitchers,” said former Red Sox lefthander Bill Lee. “American League guys have no accountability. I say make it uniform and get rid of the DH. It was the worst thing that happened to me. I could hit. It took away a whole dimension of the game.”
When the AL pitchers have to step over to the NL, it’s a major production. Red Sox pitchers have been taking batting practice for six weeks, just to be able to lay down a bunt. And there’s always this tremendous fear that their pitchers will be injured, either by getting a fastball off the knuckles or pulling a hamstring running the bases.
Why go through this worry? While it comes naturally to NL pitchers, AL pitchers struggle with bunting and running.
“Make it uniform and have the DH in both leagues,” said Dennis Eckersley, who pitched in both leagues. “I don’t want to see the pitcher hit. There’s nothing exciting about the pitcher hitting.”
There’s nothing exciting about this dilemma managers have regarding a double-switch or the right time to pull a pitcher.
“As long as you don’t screw up the double-switch, I think you’re OK,’’ said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “It is a different game. There’s no question about it. I found that there is much more to consider, particularly when that starter is getting close to the end of the night, in terms of whether it’s the pitch count or just how he’s doing physically.’’
Why is this different than the thought process of when to take a pitcher out in the AL?
“I think the key [to the double-switch], when you have those potential situations unfolding is, how you instruct that bullpen to get loose,” said Farrell. “You can really burn some guys out in the bullpen just by getting them loose when situations are presenting themselves but don’t follow through. I think it’s important how we communicate to that group out there, in-game. And then using your bench as effectively as possible.”
This pitcher-is-going-to-hit angst keeps Terry Francona up at night.
“I think a lot of times, American League teams are fearful that pitchers are going to get hurt swinging the bat,” said Farrell. “That’s why we’ve spent quite a bit of time getting some repetition, so that there is no hesitancy or thought on our part that they might injure themselves doing something they don’t normally do.
“To me, [bunting’s] probably the most important thing, what our success rate is when sacrifice bunts are needed. Anything above that would be a plus.”
Any time there’s interleague games in an NL park, baserunning is brought up. Clay Buchholz is supposed to be one of the fastest players on the Red Sox, if not in baseball, but Buchholz hurt his hamstring running the bases in San Francisco three years ago.
“We’ve taken our guys through some baserunning,” said Farrell. “It is something that they don’t do. And I recognize all that. We want them to play the game, but we also want them to understand that we’re not looking for them to steal a base either.
“The fact is, we can’t ask guys to go about a competitive environment in a controlled way. I mean, that just goes against human nature. So, we want them to play the game and compete.”
More worries, too.
David Ortiz will play first base in one of the games. Will one bad, awkward movement cause a setback? Do we have to keep our fingers crossed because a DH has to play first?
And if Ortiz plays, that means Mike Napoli sits. And vice-versa.
Would it take away from the viewing experience if the Red Sox and Phillies both used the DH at Citizens Bank Park or if the Mets and Yankees used the DH at Citi Field?
Of course not. Forty years is enough.