Yasiel Puig’s debut will grab headlines, and rightfully so. Los Angeles Dodgers fans are desperate for good news, and the Cuban outfield prospect might be dynamic enough to save their season.
But let’s not forget the other intriguing subplot tonight at Dodger Stadium, the one that has marinated for nearly two months.
Carlos Quentin is back in town.
Quentin hasn’t faced the Dodgers since April 11, otherwise known as Don Mattingly’s most miserable night of the season (so far). That was when $147 million pitcher Zack Greinke hit Quentin with a full-count fastball in the sixth inning of a one-run game. Quentin lingered at home plate. Greinke said something (at least, according to Quentin). Quentin charged the mound. Greinke lowered his left shoulder. The men collided. The pitcher’s collarbone broke. The Dodgers are still trying to recover.
Since that night, they are 17-29. Among National League teams, only the Miami Marlins have been worse. If the Dodgers’ season continues on its current (read: doomed) course, we will point to the Petco Park infield as the place things started to go terribly, horribly wrong.
So, how should the Dodgers respond? Should starter Chris Capuano drill Quentin with the first pitch of his first at-bat? That would be blatant – and maybe most fulfilling. Perhaps the Dodgers should wait until later in the game, or even Tuesday or Wednesday, just to keep up appearances.
Quentin was serving his eight-game suspension when the Dodgers and Padres played soon after the brawl. Greinke isn’t scheduled to pitch this time, so letting him settle the score isn’t a consideration. Greinke has made four starts since the incident, and the results haven’t exactly helped the Dodgers forget what happened: He has not completed the sixth inning and is 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA.
The Dodgers, with ample time to prepare, know how they will handle matters when Quentin steps into the box. But the occasion is thought-provoking for the rest of us, too, at a time when our sports culture has become increasingly sensitive toward injuries. The umpires – besieged by criticism from all corners this season – also play a role; through ejections, they control players’ latitude in enforcing baseball’s nebulous “Code.”
Sitting at a keyboard, I’m in no position to say the Dodgers should hit Quentin. And yet I won’t fault them if they do – as long as it’s done professionally. That means nothing to the head or hands, areas that could result in serious injuries. A fastball to the backside is baseball sign language for: We remember what you did. We didn’t appreciate it. We’re even now. Take your base.
Quentin, the major league leader in hit-by-pitches since 2011, should accept that.
“A lot of veterans understand the game,” Tigers ace Justin Verlander explained. “If something happens along the way, you’ll see a lot of professional big leaguers get hit and just wear it: ‘OK, either I deserved that, or I understand.’ They take their base and it’s over. It’s squashed. That happens a lot in the game.
“Nobody notices that because there’s not a big uproar about it, no benches clearing. They understand. We understand. That’s it. It’s over. It’s when it gets carried too far that everybody takes notice. Personal vendettas tend to get noticed.”
Of course, that is what we have with Greinke and Quentin. Shortly after the April 11 melee, Oney Guillen — son of Quentin’s former manager in Chicago, Ozzie Guillen — tweeted: “greinke has hit carlos many many times. look it up. told me long long time ago. if he does it again im going for him. that was like 09.”
Greinke and Quentin have spoken since April 11, according to reports, but Quentin has not apologized publicly. Verlander didn’t want to weigh in on what the Dodgers should or shouldn’t do with Quentin. Speaking generally, though, he said pitchers should be permitted to hit batters in certain circumstances, as long as it’s done the “right way.”
“It’s part of the game,” Verlander said. “It’s not like hockey where you drop the gloves and say, ‘Hey, meet me right here.’ If somebody does something that is detrimental to the club – they throw at Miggy [Miguel Cabrera] – or even if they’re throwing high-and-tight to Miggy every at-bat, we can’t allow him to get hurt. You’ve got to nip that in the bud.
“If somebody does something dirty – and I’m not going to say any names – but there’s been a couple times where guys slide in really hard, too late, or in our opinion maliciously. You can’t just let that go by. You need to protect your players. You can’t just drop the gloves and go to the pitcher’s mound and have it out. How do you retaliate? That’s the only way you can protect your guys.”
Verlander isn’t the only pitcher who thinks that way. At times, the sentiment leads to the implication of innocent pitchers. In fact, that happened to Verlander’s opponent Saturday in Baltimore. Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel surrendered three straight home runs to begin the fourth inning and hit Detroit’s Matt Tuiasosopo with the next pitch – a slider.
Home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ejected Hammel immediately, even though sliders – more difficult to control than fastballs – rarely are used for purpose pitches. Hammel defended himself later by pointing out that he had walked three batters in the first three innings and had poor command of his pitches.
“I understand his position – I still don’t understand why he threw me out,” Hammel told reporters. “That was the quickest toss I’ve ever seen. It was almost immediate. You didn’t have time to assess the situation. Yeah, three home runs in a row, next batter gets hit by a pitch. But (it) depends on what pitch is being thrown. There was zero intent there.”
Hammel’s ejection supported a point Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee made the day before during an interview with FOXSports.com: Lee said he believes only “a few” umpires have a sense of what’s a purpose pitch and what isn’t. “The majority don’t,” he said.
It would be impossible to prove that empirically. But if Lee’s statement is even close to being accurate, that should be as much of a concern to Major League Baseball as expanded instant replay.
“Guys have been thrown out in the first couple innings for hitting guys in situations where nobody on the planet would hit somebody,” Lee said. “(The umpires) don’t have a feel for the actual game. They don’t take into account that it wouldn’t make any sense to hit someone in some of those scenarios. They’re throwing guys out and issuing warnings when, as a player, you can tell it was an accident.
“They’ve affected some outcomes of games by throwing guys out way early, for things that – as a player – you can look at and see weren’t on purpose.”
As for his personal opinion on hitting batters intentionally, Lee acknowledged that he’s torn. “Part of me thinks yes, part of me thinks it’s pretty dangerous, with guys throwing as hard as they do now,” he said. “It’s pretty dangerous. It really is. But at the same time, how else are you going to stick up for teammates if the other team does something you see as putting your teammates in danger?”
In this case, Quentin did more than put Greinke in danger. Quentin injured him. Tonight, we may find out what the Dodgers intend to do about it. A victory can’t be assumed – and may not be enough.