On April 3, 2008, Bobby Cox did something that hadn’t been done in almost fifteen years. In just the fourth game of the season, the Braves manager decided to put a pitcher in the outfield.
But what caused Cox to make such an unusual move in the first place? Extra innings, the injury of an oft-injured Braves starter, and possibly even a surprise member of the Braves who had been a part of the tactic in the 1980s.
Pitchers in the outfield
If you follow baseball closely, you’ve probably seen this happen before. After all, Joe Madden has used this tactic frequently, especially when he was with the Cubs.
You might not know why managers do this in the first place, however. Generally, this was an NL-only tactic, thanks to pitchers hitting, although not exclusively. This is because when the DH was an AL-only feature of baseball, AL teams would lose their DH if they moved their pitcher from the mound to another position.
Since Bobby Cox rebroke the ground on the tactic, Joe Maddon has been the most prominent user of this. In 2016, he even used three pitchers in the same game in the outfield.https://mediadownloads.mlb.com/mlbam/mp4/2016/06/29/871312283/1467185126177/asset_450K.mp4
While with the Angels in 2021, Maddon, now with the Angels, moved two-way superstar, Shohei Ohtani, to RF after one of his starts, although this was in order to keep the pitcher-slugger in the lineup for his next AB.
In an extra innings game in 2019, Phillies starting pitcher, Vince Velazquez, came into the game to play the outfield while Roman Quinn, an CF, pitched. Velaquez was so good in his two innings in the field that he was credited with an entire OAA and two DRS, which means that he’s an elite defender.
But a pitcher in the outfield is not the only position managers have managed to save an arm for later. In 2016, the Yankees put Bryan Mitchell at 1B. New York was short on pitchers, but instead of putting him in LF, like many other teams on this list, they had him play 1B. He had pitched the 9th, but when the game went into extras, they wanted to play it safe and keep him in the game, as they were short on pitchers. Mitchell caught one popup but missed a catch as well.
A year later, Jose Alvarado did the same thing, when Kevin Cash decided to play to the platoons and felt that the Nationals were more likely to hit it in the air than on the ground. He was only at the position for one batter, however, before being put back on the mound.https://mediadownloads.mlb.com/mlbam/mp4/2018/06/26/2200142183/1530057229482/asset_2500K.mp4
Of course, all of these examples have happened since 2008. Also, I’m sure you’re here for Braves content as well. It’s time to see why Bobby Cox turned to this tactic to begin with.
Why Bobby Cox put a pitcher in the outfield
The Braves had a weird schedule to start the season. They opened the 2008 campaign in Washington on March 30th, as the visiting team in the inaugural game at Nationals Park. They lost, packed their bags, and traveled back to Atlanta to face off against the Pirates on March 31st. That’s right, it was a scheduled one-game series.
After a wild 12-inning loss, a day off, and a big victory that still somehow required six pitchers, the Braves entered their game on April 3rd short on pitchers.
This was worsened when the scheduled starter, Mike Hampton, was scratched. It was set to be the lefty’s first appearance since 2005, but instead, the oft-injured starter found himself back on the DL.
Because of the game time scratch, however, the Braves weren’t able to call up another arm. Instead, they turned to Jeff Bennett, who was able to go four innings allowing just two runs.
Unfortunately, the Braves only managed to score three runs after nine innings were complete, which meant the game was going to extras.
Bobby Cox turned to Chris Resop to start the inning. Resop had pitched in the first two games of the series as well, but had only thrown a third of an inning the day prior.
Resop walked Nyjer Morgan to start the inning, and then got the first out of the inning on a Luis Rivas on a sacrifice bunt. Resop would then walk Jason Bay, and a passed ball allowed Morgan to move to third.
With lefty and eventual two-stint Brave coming to the plate, Bobby Cox decided to get creative. Instead of letting LaRoche face a righty in Chris Resop, the Braves’ skipper turned to lefty Royce Ring.
However, instead of taking out Resop like a normal pitching change, he took Matt Diaz out instead, putting Resop in LF.
This wasn’t unfamiliar to the Braves Pitching Coach, Roger McDowell, who noted after the game he remembered doing this as a player. During McDowell’s 12-year playing career, he actually played the outfield three times.
In fact, despite Mark Bowman stating that Elias Sports Bureau found Resop’s appearance on the mound and the in the field to be the first since 1990, Roger McDowell had actually pitched and played the outfield in the same inning in 1991. The New York Times article correctly found that it was the first time since 1993 (though also quoting Elias Sports Bureau). It wasn’t noted whether or not McDowell had any influence over the decision.
After LaRoche, there wasn’t another lefty in sight, and Ring had been used nearly entirely as a LOOGY in his 11 appearances with the Braves in 2007.
Ring came in and did his job, striking out LaRoche, before Resop trotted back in from LF to pitch again, with Gregor Blanco coming in to play LF.
Unfortunately for Bobby Cox, Chris Resop, and the Braves, this didn’t work out. Resop allowed a single to Xavier Nady, scoring Nyjer Morgan, and the Braves were unable to score in the bottom of the 10th.
After the game, the Braves voiced their frustration after losing their third one-run game in their first four games.
While this practice will be utilized far less with the Universal DH, the Shohei Ohtani Rule, and Joe Maddon no longer managing a team, some of us can still dream of Brian Snitker moving Max Fried to LF after a start to give the lefty one last chance at hitting a homer.