Mike Scioscia came within a dozen or so Huston Street pitches on Sunday of doing something he has never done in 16 years as Angels manager: using a position player to pitch.
The Angels bullpen has thrown an American League-high 88 1/3 innings in August, including 20 1/3 innings in four games against the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays last Thursday through Sunday.
The bullpen was so taxed that Scioscia needed his three best relievers, Trevor Gott, Joe Smith and Street, to fill out Sunday’s 12-5 loss to the Blue Jays, a game the Angels had virtually no chance of winning.
When Street gave up two hits in the ninth and his pitch count approached 15, Scioscia instructed infielder Ryan Jackson to warm up. It was the first time Scioscia had a position player throw in the bullpen, though he added, “We’ve given heads-ups to guys before.”
Street wound up finishing the inning with 19 pitches, and Jackson never made it to the mound. But the fact Jackson warmed up debunked a long-held theory that Scioscia will never allow a position player to pitch.
“It’s not something we wouldn’t do because of philosophical reasons,” Scioscia said. “You do what you have to do, but I don’t think anybody is ever comfortable with it. If you need to do it to save a pitcher, you do it.
“But you have to be sensitive to the fact that a lot of guys think they can pitch, and the guys who go out there and throw 25-30 pitches, it’s a little different than you think. Some guys have gotten hurt. You’re putting a position player in an unnatural position that they haven’t been in in a long time.”
Chili Davis was last Angels position player to pitch, in 1993.
Scioscia mentioned former slugger Jose Canseco, who blew out his elbow while throwing a 33-pitch, three-run inning for Texas in a 15-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox in May 1993 and underwent season-ending surgery a few weeks later.
Philadelphia’s Jeff Francoeur, who has one of baseball’s stronger outfield arms, raised some eyebrows by throwing 48 pitches in two innings of a 19-3 loss to Baltimore on June 16, giving up two runs and walking three.
He escaped unscathed, however, as did five other position players who pitched in June, including current Angels outfielder David Murphy, who gave up a grand slam to Chicago Cubs slugger Kris Bryant while pitching for Cleveland on June 17.
Though Scioscia is clearly not a fan of position players pitching, it can lead to some memorable moments.
The Dodgers trailed the St. Louis Cardinals, 12-0, in the ninth inning of a May 4, 1989, game in Los Angeles when then-Dodgers utility man Mickey Hatcher convinced Manager Tom Lasorda to let him pitch.
The free-spirited Hatcher, known for his sense of humor, hit the first batter he faced, Tim Jones, with a pitch. He balked Jones to second and walked Denny Walling and Tom Brunansky to load the bases with no outs.
“He calls me out to the mound and says, ‘We’ve got to start mixing in some breaking [stuff]!” Scioscia, the Dodgers catcher at the time, recalled with a laugh. “I think he got a double-play ball and gave up one run.”
Scioscia’s memory is good. Hatcher, who went on to serve as Scioscia’s hitting coach for more than 11 years, got Jose Oquendo to ground into a double play, with a run scoring. He walked Milt Thompson but got Tony Pena to fly to right, ending the inning.