Position player pitching? Not for LA in 9th

Rule prevents Dodgers, down 5 runs, from sending McKinstry to mound vs. Mets

June 5th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- With the Dodgers trailing by five runs heading to the ninth inning on Saturday night, manager Dave Roberts sent position player Zach McKinstry to the mound at Dodger Stadium. At least he tried to.

Roberts had used six pitchers in the game -- which ended as a 9-4 loss -- and was hoping to save the remainder of his bullpen for the finale of the four-game series on Sunday afternoon.

The umpiring crew, headed by crew chief CB Bucknor, intervened. After a lengthy discussion, Bucknor announced that the score differential must be at least six runs in order for a position player to pitch before extra innings. The rule was announced ahead of the 2020 season, but it was suspended for two years before being instated for '22.

Mets manager Buck Showalter soon came out of the dugout. Roberts suggested the umpires check with the league offices in New York for confirmation.

"They wanted a rule clarification, because they didn't think the way the rule was being told to them was correct,” Showalter said.

It was a change Roberts was unaware of.

“It’s an oversight on my part,” Roberts said. “Once it was brought to [the umpires’] attention, they were on it, too.”

As a result, the game was delayed for 11 minutes.

"I hope we don't see it again,” Showalter said.

Without any pitchers ready in Los Angeles' bullpen, Evan Phillips was given time to warm up before entering.

In spite of the five-run difference and the Dodgers leading MLB in runs scored, Roberts was still prepared to raise the proverbial white flag in the hopes he could better the team's chances for Sunday.

“It’s more of looking at what we have in the probability to win that game to save in order to win the series,” Roberts said. “I’m still trying to manage to win a series and not just keep the game close.”

Walker Buehler was the first Dodgers pitcher to take the mound Saturday, but not for long. By his standards, it’s been a rough stretch of late. Buehler’s performance against the Mets did nothing to change that, as he went only 2 1/3 innings, the shortest start of his six-year big league career.

Buehler allowed five earned runs and five hits, including two homers -- the second coming from Pete Alonso on Buehler's 65th and final pitch of night. He threw 29 pitches during a third inning in which the Mets scored four runs, after the Dodgers had taken a 4-1 lead the previous half-inning.

“I wasn’t trending in a positive direction,” Buehler said. “So obviously, I understand it. It stinks to put your team in a hole after they scored four runs for me. It’s more of the same. Frustrating.”

The Mets' nine-run performance came after Dodgers pitchers had held them to one run and eight hits over the first two games of the series.

The latest numbers for Buehler are troubling relative to his stellar past. His 3.73 xERA is the highest of his career, and his ERA -- which was at 1.96 on May 8 -- is up to 3.84.

“It’s very uncharacteristic, as far as the inconsistencies,” Roberts said. “We've come to expect quality starts every time he goes out there. But the game is hard. Those hitters are good on the other side.”