d'Arnaud Picked Terrible Time For Injury

ALSO: WHY BASEBALL MISSES THE BUNT

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

Ian Kinsler’s paternal grandparents, Benjamin and Rose Kunstlich, left their native Germany in the ‘30s because of Nazi persecution of Jews . . .

At 37, Max Scherzer may be winding down his baseball career but he’s obviously beginning a new one as a parent; immediately after pitching a five-hit victory for the Nationals last week, he rushed to the hospital for the birth of his third child . . .

Newly-signed San Diego closer Mark Melancon, happy to be home on the West Coast, is put himself in the Cy Young conversation by converting nine straight save chances and posting a microscopic ERA . . .

The Toronto Blue Jays still have cardboard cutouts at their “home” field, TD Bank Park in Dunedin, FL . . .

Blue Jays backstop Danny Jansen stopped an 0-for-35 skid with a two-out RBI single . .

Known for his glove, Cristian Pache’s first regular-season homer was a grand slam . . .

The “Manfred Man,” that automatic runner on second base in every extra inning, has already cost the Braves four walk-off losses because their bedraggled bullpen couldn’t keep games tied . . .

Leading Off

Feeling Sorry For Travis d’Arnaud

In baseball, timing is everything.

Travis d’Arnaud knows that better the most.

He’s had more than his share of injuries, including Tommy John surgery, but was fully healthy when the rest of the world succumbed to the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

With the season shortened, d’Arnaud became a sudden and unexpected star. He hit .321, by far a career best, with a .386 on-base average and .533 slugging percentage in 44 games during the 60-game season, helping the Atlanta Braves win their third straight NL title with a four-game margin over Miami.

His bat was so solid that Brian Snitker reconstituted his lineup behind leadoff man Ronald Acuña, Jr. The manager moved Freddie Freeman, his best hitter, to the No. 2 slot, pushed Marcell Ozuna from fourth to third, installed d’Arnaud as the new cleanup man, and put Ozzie Albies fifth.

It worked like a charm.

With the right-handed Ozuna behind the left-handed Freeman, the latter got better pitches to hit, finished with a career-peak .341 batting average, and won MVP honors with 28 of the 30 votes.

Ozuna, in his first year with the team after signing a one-year, $18 million pact as a free agent, led the league in home runs (18), runs batted in (56), and total bases (145) while hitting .338, also a career best. He actually made a run at the first NL triple crown since 1937.

The new batting order continued to churn through the first three rounds of the extended, 16-team playoff tournament. Atlanta swept Cincinnati in the best-of-three Wild Card Series and Miami in the best-of-five Division Series and then took a 3-1 lead against Los Angeles in the best-of-seven NL Championship Series.

That’s when everything suddenly turned sour – especially for d’Arnaud.

He hit .174 against the Dodgers, collecting four hits in 23 at-bats, immediately after hitting .600 (6-for-10) with two home runs and seven runs batted in against the Marlins. He also struck out seven times, most of them in crucial situations.

The d’Arnaud drought continued into 2020. Before he suffered a likely season-ending injury Saturday against Toronto in Dunedin, FL, the Atlanta backstop had been hitting .220 with a .253 on-base mark and sickly .341 slugging percentage in his first 87 plate appearances. He had two home runs and 11 runs batted in.

Then came Saturday. In the sixth inning of the game at TD Park, d’Arnaud tore the ligament in his left thumb – his catching hand – in a home-plate collision with Randal Grichuk. Snitker said after the game that the prognosis was “not good” and revealed the receiver would be sent back to Atlanta to see team doctors the next day.

For the 32-year-old d’Arnaud, the situation is even worse financially than physically. He’s in the second year of a two-year, $16 million contract and was hoping for a new one longer in both years and dollars.

Unless he returns late in the season, d’Arnaud dollars have suddenly lost their value – even though slugging catchers are a rare commodity.

The Braves, paralyzed by the pandemic, have already indicated they would not be able to afford him. The team has a ton of talented young catchers, headed by William Contreras and Shea Langeliers, and promoted the former immediately after d’Arnaud got hurt. Contreras, the brother of star Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, is a better defender than d’Arnaud, has a better arm, and may produce more power. He ranks No. 6 on the list of Atlanta’s Top 30 prospects.

Atlanta executives say the team lost $100 million last year, when game-day fan revenue evaporated with spectators barred from ballparks, and cut the payroll by some $30 million. The purge eliminated veterans Adam Duvall, Tyler Flowers, Charlie Culberson, Mark Melancon, Darren O’Day, and Shane Greene, among others.

With the oft-injured d’Arnaud on the sidelines, at least broadcaster Matt Vasgersian will be spared the embarrassment of mispronouncing his name. The emphasis is on the last syllable, not the first.

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg has been a Braves fan since 1957. His byline can be found on forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, and Sports Collectors Digest, among others. The author of 38 baseball books, Dan’s e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

Bring Back the Bunt; It Helped End Haddix Gem

By Dan Schlossberg

Baseball needs to bring back the bunt.

Instead of whaling away at every pitch, hitters need to counteract the shift by dragging bunts down the line – where fielders aren’t – add start a run-producing merry-go-round on the bases.

I offer Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews as a case in point.

On a foggy Milwaukee night 62 years ago, this slugger bunted because game strategy called for it.

It was May 26, 1959. Harvey Haddix, a little left-hander nicknamed The Kitten, had thrown 12 perfect innings for the Pittburgh Pirates against the Milwaukee Braves but was locked in a scoreless duel against Lew Burdette, a gritty righthander who yielded 12 hits but no runs.

In the bottom of the unlucky 13th, Haddix coaxed a grounder to third from Felix Mantilla, who had come into the game after starting second baseman Johnny O’Brien was lifted for a pinch-hitter.

When Don Hoak threw wildly, the Braves had their first base-runner and the perfect game was gone. But it was still a no-hitter.

With a man on first and nobody out, Mathews came to the plate. He made the most of his lefty-on-lefty match with Haddix but executing a perfect sacrifice bunt.

Hank Aaron, the next batter, was purposely passed as Pittsburgh hoped lumbering Joe Adcock, the cleanup man, would produce a double-play grounder and end the inning.

Instead, Adcock lifted the ball over the right-field fence, ostensibly ending the game, the no-hitter, and the shutout. But not exactly.

Aaron, running from first, went as far as second as he watched the ball clear the wall. In his excitement at the sudden end to the historic game, Aaron never completed his circuit of the bases. After he went directly from second base to the Braves dugout, Adcock – his head down in home run trot – inadvertently passed him (or the place Aaron had stood last) between second and third.

It took several days to decide whether the final score should be 1-0, 2-0, or 3-0. According to baseball rules, which eventually prevailed, Adcock was given credit for a double, with Mantilla’s run the only one that counted.

But who knows whether that would have happened without the Mathews bunt. Mathews or even Aaron could have grounded into a double-play, effectively ending the inning before Adcock came up.

Bunts used to be a such a big deal that managers ordered them multiple times per game – and not just for pitchers who otherwise would have been automatic outs.

Players bunted too – often in an effort to reach base by surprising opponents. Maury Wills, Lou Brock, and Rickey Henderson were among the speed merchants who knew the advantages of bunting, but Vince Coleman and Brett Butler also proved adept at the art.

Tom Glavine, the Hall of Fame left-hander, was such a good bunter that he once led the National League in sacrifices.

Managers admit they’d like to play Small Ball and to produce runs with bunt hits and stolen bases but today’s players believe their best route to big bucks is to bang the ball as often as they can. The result is too many strikeouts, poor batting averages, and a pitcher-friendly climate.

At least pitchers are proving, once again, that the bunt can be beneficial. They’re batting again in National League games and helping themselves in the process.

Veteran baseball writer Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ says it’s better to bunt than punt. In addition to Here’s The Pitch, he writes for forbes.com, Latino Sports, Sports Collectors Digest, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly. Contact Dan via e.mail ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Despite their win against Harvey Haddix in the 13th inning, the 1959 Milwaukee Braves weren’t so lucky: Burdette blew a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning of the second playoff game against the Dodgers, while Mantilla made a critical throwing error the ended the game and the season for the Braves, 6-5. Even Warren Spahn, working in relief, couldn’t quell the three-run Los Angeles rally . . .

Two years later, Mathews, Aaron, Adcock, and Frank Thomas became the first teammates to hit four consecutive home runs in a game . . .

The Pirates, on the other hand, regrouped from the imperfect perfect game to win the 1960 National League pennant and world championship when Bill Mazeroski became the first man to end a World Series with a home run . . .

Haddix might have come away with a nine-inning perfect game if future Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, injured at the time, had appeared in the Pittsburgh lineup . . .

Another future Hall of Famer, Bud Selig, was in the stands as a fan for the Haddix gem.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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