The Pittsburgh Pirates are renowned for throwing inside to opposing hitters. This is a good thing. It’s important for pitchers to own both sides of the plate.
But in the first two games of their series against the Phillies in Pittsburgh, more than a handful of those pitches have gotten away from Pirates hurlers, resulting in five hit batters for the Phils.
Two of those hit batters were particularly scary. First, on Friday, Maikel Franco got hit with a fastball on the wrist, the same wrist that was broken last year against Arizona that forced him to miss most of the second half of the season.
Zach Eflin retaliated by plunking the Pirates’ best player, Andrew McCutchen, the following inning.
Both teams were warned and there were no instances after that on Friday. But the plunking didn’t stop.
On Saturday, Cameron Rupp was beaned by a wild Tyler Glasnow, a scary pitch that forced Rupp from the game due to concussion concerns.
Rupp appears to be OK, showing no signs of a concussion. Clearly, Glasnow wasn’t throwing at Phils hitters on Saturday. He even hit Aaron Nola, the opposing pitcher, as he was trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt.
Glasnow was simply very wild. But that excuse wasn’t enough for Phils manager Pete Mackanin after the game.
PIT has hit 5 #Phillies hitters in two games. Mackanin: "If you're going to pitch inside & you hit a guy in the head you shouldn't be here."— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 24, 2016
Aaron Nola, who struggled with his command all game long, didn’t retaliate on Saturday, saying he was more concerned with throwing strikes and getting outs.
On Friday, Eflin did respond, living up to the old school baseball code that, if an opposing team is hitting too many of your players, or particularly a star player, then you retaliate by hitting one of theirs.
But in today’s game, with so many pitchers throwing so hard, what is the proper protocol? Is it still OK to drill an opposing batter in the back or the legs with a 93 mph fastball in retaliation to a number of your teammates getting hit?
Is it still a pitcher’s job to defend his teammates? Or is this a part of the old-school baseball code that needs to be retired?
Several weeks ago, when Nola was struggling with his control and hit three San Francisco Giants players in a game, many Phillies fans were upset that Giants players indicated they wanted their pitchers to retaliate by plunking a Phils player. This situation is no different.
Many, if not most Phillies fans, probably loved seeing Eflin hit McCutchen. But, as was plainly obvious on Saturday, it had no effect whatsoever. Glasnow was so wild, he couldn’t stop himself.
If a pitcher is truly wild, is it the right thing to do to hit an opposing team’s player? Is there ever a situation where plunking someone on purpose is warranted?
Certainly, the Phillies could have really made it hurt by converting some of those HBPs into runs. The Phils left 14 men on base on Saturday and failed to convert a bases loaded, one-out situation. Putting a four-spot on the board would have been more damaging than any hit batter would have been.
Frankly, it does feel good to watch your pitcher smoke an opposing batter with a pitch if your favorite players are getting hit. I will admit to a little perverse pleasure and satisfaction watching Eflin hit McCutchen on Friday. But it’s fairly obvious that retaliation like that doesn’t work.
However, it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Pitchers who do this win major points in the locker room among the position players, and certainly Eflin was praised for what he did on Friday.
The only question is whether he should be.