San Francisco Giants

Designated-hitter debate flares after ace Wainwright’s injury

Bruce Bochy is a National Leaguer through and through, having played parts of nine major-league seasons in the N.L. prior to managing the last 20 for the San Diego Padres and the Giants. And while baseball buzzed this week about the possibility – some say inevitability – of the N.L. someday adopting the designated hitter, Bochy clearly maligns the possibility.

“I hope they never change our league, the National League,” Bochy said Friday before his team played the Los Angeles Angels. “There’s so much history to the game, and I just don’t want to see that change. I like the fact the leagues are different. I like the strategy in the National League.”

The DH debate, by no means new, was reignited after Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles’ on April 25 leaving the batter’s box, ending his season. It amplified questions of whether the N.L. should incorporate the DH to help prevent such injuries to pitchers, while also creating uniform rules across baseball and possibly injecting more offense into N.L. play.

Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer joined the debate when, after jamming his thumb in an at-bat late last month, he told CBSSports.com: “If you look at it long-term, I think eventually, there will be a DH in the National League.” Later clarifying his comments in a series of tweets, Scherzer said that although he enjoys hitting, he does think that “at some point it would be good for both leagues to have the same rules.”

In the Bay Area last week, though, that opinion was not widely shared. Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, the reigning Silver Slugger Award winner among pitchers, told the San Jose Mercury News: “It’s a beautiful game to me the way it is.” And managers from both leagues seemed to share that view.

“I like the difference in the leagues,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I don’t like going to the National League (in interleague play) and having to have our pitchers hit. But I think it makes for some differences, nuances within the leagues. ... I think it’s kind of cool to have that kind of difference.”

Realignment a factor

Some observers might argue baseball is already heading toward a change. The realignment of Major League Baseball into two 15-team leagues has made for season-long interleague play. As a result, two teams end the season playing under different rules from which they started (with or without the DH) – a potential issue if a team is fighting for a playoff spot.

Offense is down across baseball. And in the American League, more teams seem to be using the DH as a rotating spot to help rest regular position players, which can pay dividends over a 162-game season. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in March that union chief Tony Clark expects the “universal DH” to be discussed at baseball’s next labor negotiations in 2016.

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, though, advocates of the N.L. standing pat largely point to the fact that, for decades until the A.L. introduced the DH in 1973, there was no question in either league that pitchers would hit for themselves.

“I think it’s how the game was meant to be played when they first started drawing it up,” said Giants pitcher Tim Hudson, who has played in both leagues. “Obviously the fans want offense, and it’s nice they have a league that has a little more offense due to the DH. But I think the pure baseball fan probably enjoys the N.L. style a little bit better.”

Bochy agreed that not having the DH adds wrinkles to the N.L. game, where one is likelier to see pinch-hitters, double-switches and the pitcher’s spot bounce throughout the lineup in the later innings.

“It’s a game that I think creates a lot more interest ... because there is so much more strategy involved,” Bochy said. “I don’t care what they say; I’ve managed with the DH and it’s a huge difference.

“These guys, like a Wainwright, I’d like to know how many games he’s probably won for himself by doing something little, whether getting a bunt or hit-and-run, or getting a base hit. I love that part of the game, where a pitcher can help win the game for himself.”

Melvin: Prep time crucial

Wainwright is considered one of baseball’s better hitting pitchers. But it’s his status as an ace that generated the outcry when he was lost to a non-pitching injury.

Avoiding injury is a primary argument for the universal DH. And Melvin admitted that he does get “a little nervous” when the A’s go into an N.L. park and pitchers have to hit.

“You try to ... give them a progression to get ready,” Melvin said. “Two weeks out is when we start. It’s bunting for a few days, then swinging a little bit, trying to get them ready to work those muscles and feel like they’re prepared for it.”

Melvin, who previously managed the Arizona Diamondbacks, added: “In the National League, I wasn’t as nervous about it because (pitchers) were always prepared and taking BP every day.”

Bumgarner on Friday said he’d taken his stance early in the week in his comments to the Mercury News. Talking specifically about Wainwright, Bumgarner, who hit four home runs last season including two grand slams, said: “I hate what happened to him. He works his butt off out there. But I don’t think (the injury) was because he was hitting. What if he gets hurt getting out of his truck? You tell him not to drive anymore?

“That’s the way the game has to be played. I appreciate both sides of the argument and I get it. But (ending pitcher plate appearances) isn’t the way to go about (addressing) it.”

‘Let the pitcher hit’

Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow was candid about his attitude toward hitting over his 14 MLB seasons.

“Early in my career I loved it,” Krukow said. “My last three years, I didn’t want to get on base; I was too beat up. It’s a part of it. It’s something you have to deal with.”

Krukow said he isn’t against the DH in the A.L. But he also thinks the N.L. “should keep its own identity and let the pitcher hit.”

Having to hit can complicate things for a pitcher, Krukow said. “In the A.L, you finish your inning, you come in, sit on the bench and you start to pitch your next inning, start to think about those hitters you’re going to face.” An N.L. pitcher who must put on a helmet and hit lacks that luxury.

But Krukow also cited two valuable outcomes of pitchers’ plate appearances.

“No. 1, it makes them a better pitcher, because they’re seeing (as hitters) what sinkers do, what sliders and cutters do,” Krukow said. “They’re seeing it first-hand.

“The other thing is, it’s real easy to throw inside at somebody when you’re in the A.L., because you don’t have to stand in that batter’s box. If you hit somebody (in the N.L.), then they get a chance to hit you. And that’s a whole different ballgame.

“So those things have to be stressed,” Krukow said. “And I think because of those things, it makes our game better.”

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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