A delayed 2020 season is coming, and the universal DH is coming with it.
At least for now, that new rule applies only to this year. But whether or not MLB goes back to having pitchers hit in National League ballparks in 2021, those who are proponents of #PitchersWhoRake may be out of luck, at least until then.
Or are they? While it’s entirely possible that pitchers will not make a single plate appearance in 2020 -- excluding two-way players such as Shohei Ohtani -- the universal DH does not shut the door entirely.
We know this because we’ve seen it play out in American League ballparks over the past 47 seasons, since the AL adopted the DH in 1973. In that time, there has been an average of nearly three regular-season games per year in which the DH rule was in effect, yet a pitcher recorded at least one plate appearance. That includes 18 occurrences since 2010 and encompasses instances in which a team gave up its DH spot, or simply used a pitcher at the plate, mostly as a pinch-hitter. (Again, these numbers don’t count two-way players, or those who did both at different points in their career, such as Rick Ankiel).
There are two major caveats, however. Most of those examples occurred when teams had 25-man rosters, whereas in 2020, rosters will begin at 30 before dropping to 28 after two weeks and 26 after four. Meanwhile, another new rule will place a runner on second base to begin each half-inning in extras. Between the deeper rosters and decreased likelihood of games lasting several extra innings, the chances of clubs sending a pitcher to bat undoubtedly will take a hit (so to speak).
With that said, pitchers sometimes have stepped to the plate in AL ballparks even with expanded September rosters, and even in nine-inning games. So take heart, fans of sweet-swinging pitchers. All is not necessarily lost.
Here is a look at the past 15 times this strange baseball quirk has surfaced.
Phil Maton (Padres): May 25, 2019, at Blue Jays
Result: 1-for-1, RBI
By the time Maton entered in the seventh inning, the Padres led 14-3 and took the opportunity to rest shortstop Manny Machado. Greg Garcia, who had started at DH, moved to shortstop. That meant San Diego lost the DH. In between Maton’s two innings, the Padres added to their blowout by batting around and bringing up Maton’s spot in the order. He contributed an RBI bloop single -- his first career hit -- in what became a 19-4 victory.
Trevor Cahill (Angels): April 22, 2019, vs. Yankees
When Zack Cozart was injured while running the bases in the 12th inning, the Halos were already out of position players. That forced pitcher Félix Peña to pinch-run. With the DH gone, the Angels were in a tough spot. Trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the 14th, they watched the Yankees intentionally walk Kole Calhoun with two outs and the bases empty to bring up what was now the pitcher’s spot. Cahill, a .121 career batter, pinch-hit for fellow hurler Luke Bard and struck out to end the game.
Travis Wood (Royals): June 20, 2017, vs. Red Sox
The Royals trailed 8-1 when Wood took over in the top of the eighth inning, and Eric Hosmer headed to the bench, with Cheslor Cuthbert sliding from DH to first base. Wood threw the final two innings of the K.C. loss and ended it by grounding into a double play in an 8-3 game.
Madison Bumgarner (Giants): June 30, 2016, at A’s
Result: 1-for-4, 2B
This is the only time since 1976 that a team has intentionally chosen to not start a DH in an AL ballpark, though in '88, the Yankees once used pitcher Rick Rhoden to DH on a day when he didn’t start on the mound. Bumgarner had slashed .252/.280/.469 with nine homers in 143 at-bats from 2014-15, and gone deep twice more in the first half of 2016. That performance prompted manager Bruce Bochy to let him hit instead of use a DH, and Bumgarner delivered a long double that ignited a six-run inning.
(“Intentionally” is the key word there. In May 2009, Tampa Bay’s Andy Sonnanstine wound up batting third in the Rays’ lineup, but only because manager Joe Maddon accidentally listed two third basemen on his lineup card, causing his club to lose the DH. Sonnanstine got Maddon off the hook with an RBI double. In 1999, Indians manager Mike Hargrove mixed up Manny Ramirez and Alex Ramirez on his lineup card, which also led to the loss of the DH and Charles Nagy batting seventh, from where he went 0-for-2.)
Kendall Graveman (A’s): April 20, 2016, at Yankees
This was an odd side effect of the play when the Yankees’ Aaron Hicks set a Statcast record by unleashing a 105.5 mph throw from left field to nab Oakland’s Danny Valencia at the plate. The third baseman injured his left hamstring on his slide and had to leave the game. With the A’s leading 3-1 in the fourth inning, manager Bob Melvin opted to prioritize defense, moving Jed Lowrie from DH to second base in the process. Graveman, who started on the mound, went 6 1/3 innings for the win.
Jason García (Orioles): Aug. 16, 2015, vs. A’s
Result: 0-for-0, BB
Baltimore had built an 18-2 lead when Garcia came in to mop up the final two innings. The Orioles also got starter Chris Davis out of the game at that point, while moving DH Steve Clevenger to first base. That brought Garcia to the plate in the bottom of the eighth -- against Oakland position player Ike Davis. He walked on four pitches.
Joe Ross (Nationals): June 16, 2015, at Rays
Washington led 14-1 in the top of the ninth inning when the Rays put position player Nick Franklin on the mound to relieve position player Jake Elmore. The Nats already had emptied most of their bench to give their slugging starters a breather, so whatever fans were left at Tropicana Field were treated to a truly strange sight: a pitcher (Ross) pinch-hitting for a DH (Yunel Escobar) against a position player (Franklin). Ross popped up, but the Nats still scored twice more and won 16-4.
Jason Hammel (A’s): Sept. 12, 2014, at Mariners
Result: 0-for-0, sac bunt
Despite expanded September rosters, the A’s were playing with a banged-up catching corps, and on this day, had one of their two healthy backstops (Derek Norris) at DH. When starter Geovany Soto had to leave early with an injury, Melvin felt he needed to give up the DH in order to put Norris behind the plate. That left Hammel, the starting pitcher, to help manufacture a run with a sacrifice in the fourth inning.
Sean Doolittle (A’s): June 22, 2014, vs. Red Sox
When the A’s drafted Doolittle as a first baseman in 2007, he might have imagined one day stepping to the plate in Oakland with the game on the line. But probably not like this. Doolittle, who converted to pitching in the Minors, got his first MLB plate appearance with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning and the A’s trailing by one. Facing Boston closer Koji Uehara, he made contact but grounded out. Doolittle was in that position because Oakland already had burned its entire bench when Norris had to leave due to injury in the top of that frame, forcing Melvin to give up the DH.
Kevin Correia (Twins): Aug. 2, 2013, vs. Astros
Result: 0-for-0, sac bunt
Minnesota trailed by a run in the bottom of the ninth when, by his own admission, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire ended up, “getting myself in a pickle there.” By using infielder Doug Bernier to pinch-run for DH Chris Colabello after a leadoff walk, then using catcher/outfielder Chris Herrmann to pinch-hit for shortstop Pedro Florimon, Gardenhire boxed himself in when his club tied the game. In the 10th, Bernier had to move to shortstop, and the Twins lost the DH. It all worked out in the 13th, when Correia pinch-hit for reliever Ryan Pressly and laid down a sac that set up a walk-off single.
Joe Saunders (Mariners): June 29, 2013, vs. Cubs
And here we have another pitcher forced into making the final out of a close game. In this case, Seattle was trailing by two in the 11th when Saunders pinch-hit for reliever Oliver Pérez, flying out with nobody on base. As in those other cases, Seattle had exhausted its supply of position players when an injury struck, with center fielder Dustin Ackley hurt diving for a fly ball in the ninth.
Jerry Blevins (A’s): April 29, 2013, vs. Angels
What did it take for Blevins, a lefty reliever, to make his first MLB plate appearance in an AL ballpark? Just a 19-inning game featuring three A’s injuries. Brett Anderson, a starter who threw 5 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, had to leave with one out in the top of the 18th due to an ankle injury. Outfielders Coco Crisp and Chris Young had already exited with leg injuries, forcing Seth Smith to move from DH to left and putting the pitcher’s spot in the lineup. That didn’t come into play until the bottom of the 18th, when Blevins led off and struck out. But one inning later, he got the win on a Brandon Moss walk-off homer.
Chris Tillman (Orioles): April 27, 2013, at A’s
One way or another, the A’s always seem to be a part of these games. In this case, they were trailing the Orioles 4-2 when Baltimore starting catcher Taylor Teagarden had to leave with an injury in the middle of the sixth. Matt Wieters, Baltimore’s usual No. 1 backstop, was serving as the DH, and shifted behind the plate. That forced Tillman to make only his second career plate appearance: a strikeout looking to end the top of the seventh.
Trevor Bauer (Indians): April 6, 2013, at Rays
This is yet another case of a catcher injury, as Cleveland’s Lou Marson was hurt while blocking home plate and had to leave in the middle of the fourth inning. Carlos Santana, who had started at DH, took his place. Bauer, the starting pitcher, struck out looking in the top of the fifth.
Chris Archer (Rays): Sept. 13, 2012, at Orioles
This was a strange one. In a 2-2 game heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, Rays manager Joe Maddon forfeited the DH to move Evan Longoria to third base as part of a series of defensive maneuvers while bringing in Fernando Rodney to pitch. With the game still tied in the 11th, Archer was warming up for his fourth career appearance, with Maddon planning to enter him in a double switch. But then second baseman Ryan Roberts fouled a ball off his leg and had to exit in the middle of an at-bat. So rather than using an extra player, Maddon had Archer finish the at-bat, taking strike three. That at-bat was credited to Roberts, but Archer wound up taking one for himself in the 14th, when he struck out on a sac bunt attempt that went foul. In the bottom of the inning, he gave up a walk-off hit to Manny Machado.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.