Houston reliever Kendall Graveman may have been the last pitcher to regularly hit in a Major League Baseball game Sunday night, and Braves manager Brian Snitker said it couldn’t have happened a moment too soon.
The universal designated hitter is likely on tap in the next Basic Agreement, currently being collectively bargained by the owners and the players. Pitchers hitting, an artifact of the National League that’s run its course, may have heaved its dying gasp.
The DH will be on display again as the World Series shifts back to Minute Maid Park Tuesday night for Game 6 after the Astros staved off elimination by the Atlanta Braves with a 9-5 Game 5 win at Truist Park. A possible Game 7 is Wednesday.
“I was not for it. I am for it now,” said Snitker, who managed for decades in the Braves minor-league system before taking over the Major League club. “For every Max Fried and Adam Wainwright and Madison Bumgarner, there’s 15 guys who can’t hit. Again, they don’t grow up hitting. They grow up pitching, and they’re not hitting.”
Graveman struck out looking to end the top of the ninth. He pitched the final two innings and locked down a must win for the Astros.
The universal DH was utilized as a health and safety issue during last year’s COVID-shortened 60-game season. The Major League Baseball Players Association wanted it back this season, but then the owners tied it to expanding the postseason. Under those circumstances, the proposal died.
Most observers believe it will be part of the entire labor agreement when the World Series ends and the tough negotiations begin, moving toward the Dec. 1 expiration of the current five-year pact.
“I enjoyed the games in Houston, where I could let all the guys play, and I liked it last year, too,” Snitker said. “I didn’t know if I would, but I ended up liking it.”
In the World Series, the rule allows pitchers to hit in the NL parks and utilize the DH in the American League parks. It had a decisive effect on the Astros, who scored just two runs in the first two games at Truist Park, both losses.
Carlos Correa, the All-Star Astros shortstop who’s about to become a highly sought-after free agent, agreed with Snitker.
“I think there should be a DH in both leagues,” he said. “That’s the way to keep moving the game forward. People come to the ballpark to see a great game, but they love to see home runs. Pitchers are not hitting many of them. So, the DH should be universal.”
Zack Greinke of the Astros is one of those pitchers who can hit and enjoys it. He may have had the last hits as a pitcher. He singled Saturday night as a starter, and that led Astros manager Dusty Baker to use Greinke as a pinch-hitter Sunday, and he singled again.
Greinke is a .226 lifetime hitter, playing nine of his 18 seasons batting regularly in the NL.
He may have enjoyed the hit as much as his four innings of shutout pitching Saturday night in a 3-2 loss to the Braves. As television cameras panned to him, he had a big smile on his face as he stood at first base. His reaction was the same Sunday.
Trying to manipulate his lineup for the highest impact, Baker batted Greinke eighth instead of ninth in Game 4. That kind of maneuvering isn’t necessary when you have the DH.
“I actually got it from Tony La Russa, and it makes sense,” Baker said. “Greinke handles the bat.”
When told he might have had the last hits for a pitcher in Major League play, Greinke simply said: “We’ll see.”
“It’s just a different game when you come to the NL,” Correa said. “You got that out with the pitcher—I don’t want to say free out, because some of the pitchers can actually hit. But, to me, that’s not real baseball. I want to see real hitters out there who will make it a little tougher for the pitchers, too.”
Baker, who’s managed most of his career in the NL with the Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nationals, said he likes the game just the way it is.
The AL adopted the DH in 1973, and Ron Blomberg of the Yankees was the first one. Since then, save for the pandemic 2020 season, the NL has shunned it, continuing to allow pitchers to hit.
“The reason why I’m not for the DH in both leagues is it’s hurting some the kids coming up who don’t want to play a position,” Baker said. “They just want to DH at 12 or 13 or 14. You go to a Little League game, or you go to a Little League practice, and after they hit, they’re ready to go home.
“There’s more to the game than just hitting if you’re going to be a ballplayer.”
But the DH train has left the station internationally. The NL and Central League in Japan are the only organized leagues in the world that don’t utilize the DH.
And like Snitker said: “Again, the kids don’t grow up hitting. They grow up pitching, and they’re not hitting.”
“But I just see so many pitchers now that go to the plate and, No. 1, they don’t want to do it,” he added. “So, I just think it will be a better game to watch. It will be more action, more stuff going on.”
In Houston this week, Snitker again will be able to utilize Jorge Soler as the DH, as he did during the first two games of the series. In Atlanta, Soler was reduced to pinch-hitting, but his homer Saturday night, coming back-to-back with Dansby Swanson in the seventh inning, won the game.
Of course, Snitker batted Soler for the pitcher.