Using two position players on mound: Just how rare is it?
CLEVELAND — They say that one of the beauties of baseball with its 162-game season is that you get to see something new and different every day. Terry Francona and the Indians hope what they witnessed and experienced on Wednesday night doesn’t happen again for a very long time.
How bad was the 17-0 loss to the Cubs at Progressive Field? Besides being the worst drubbing that the Tribe has experienced since the ballpark opened in 1994, they had to use two position players to pitch the ninth. Ryan Raburn went two-thirds of an inning, facing four batters and David Murphy faced six hitters in going the final one-third.
After three position players were used across the majors on Tuesday, Francona was asked before Wednesday’s game about his thought process in using one in a game. It turned out to be prescient. Francona pointed out that sometimes to save a pitching staff that it is better to do it.
Francona added: "It’s a balance and it’s a hard one. I hate it actually. You don’t want to ever be embarrassed on the field but when you get to a point where you think you’re hurting your chances for the next day, you end up doing something like that."
However, not in Francona’s wildest nightmare could he have imagined using two.
Tampa Bay used two position players as pitchers on Tuesday night against Washington but Jake Elmore and Nick Franklin went an inning apiece. The Indians though became the first team in nearly 25 years to use two position players in an inning. Montreal did it on July 20, 1990, when it used Dave Martinez and Junior Noboa in a 12-6 loss to Houston.
According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, the only other time it happened in the American League in the past 75 years it happened was by Baltimore on June, 26, 1978, with Larry Harlow and Elrod Hendricks in a 24-10 loss to Toronto.
Since Shaun Marcum went only two innings, Francona had an idea early that the innings and pitchers available were not going to add up. He told Raburn in the sixth that the chances were pretty good that he was going to pitch.
When the ninth inning rolled around and the Cubs leading 10-0, Zach McAllister was the only bullpen arm left but he went an inning on Tuesday and wasn’t available. Enter Raburn.
In his last appearance on Aug. 8, 2013, Raburn retired the side against Detroit on 12 pitches. In this outing, he threw twice as many pitches, allowing a walk and a single while retiring two hitters.
"His arm was getting a little cranky. That’s the last thing we want to happen," Francona said. "To be honest with you, what I worry about (in that situation) is someone getting hurt. By that point, the game is out of reach. Whether they score two or three or none, you want somebody to throw strikes and not get hurt."
Murphy, who pitched an inning for the Rangers in a 2013 game, was summoned from left field. It looked like he would only be needed for one pitch but Francisco Lindor misplayed a David Ross pop fly in shallow center to extend the inning.
"I saw the pitch count start to go up and I was kinda looking in the dugout. I was going to point to myself like ‘hey, I want to go in.’ I was kind of pumped when I got the call," Murphy said. "I thought I was gonna be out of there in one pitch but they knew I wanted to be in there a little bit longer so they dropped the ball for me. So I was able to enjoy myself a little bit longer and give up a few missiles."
Things got worse from there, including Kris Bryant hitting his first grand slam in the majors. By the time Chris Coghlan flew out to center, Murphy had faced six batters and thrown 19 pitches.
The only saving grace for both is that in the seven-run inning, none of the runs were earned meaning that Raburn and Murphy still have career 0.00 ERAs.
Despite the worst loss by a team in interleague history and the worst Cleveland loss at home since the White Sox won 17-0 in a July 5, 1987, game at Municipal Stadium, Murphy was still able to somewhat crack a smile. As Murphy said, if you play the game long enough, things like
"Most of us have played this game since we were 5, 6, 7 years old. You play this game long enough, you’re gonna have games where you’re on the right side of 15, 20 to nothing or whatever, and you’re going to be on the wrong end of them," he added. "You go out some days and you beat yourself and we just flat out got beat today and got beat bad. It happens."