The date is Wednesday, May 19, 2021. The now Cleveland Guardians are playing the rubber match of a three-game series in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels. Neither of these teams will play a significant role in the postseason chase. Both will eventually fizzle out and finish the year with mediocre campaigns.
However, something very symbolic happened in that game and it deserves your attention.
It is the bottom of the eighth inning and Cleveland is leading by the score of 3-2. Manager Terry Francona has seen his starter Aaron Civale have a masterful performance throwing seven innings of two-run ball. Cleveland’s right-hander allowed four hits and a walk with eight strikeouts in 114 pitches.
Tito is ready to turn it over to his powerful late duo of Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak. The latter gets the ball in the eighth against the 8-9-1 part of the order for the Angels. Kurt Suzuki opens up the inning with a single but is quickly followed by a couple of force-outs from David Fletcher and José Iglesias.
There are two outs and the number two-hitter in the order is coming up with a runner on, to face Cleveland’s best relief pitcher. This is a crucial moment in the game.
Phil Gosselin goes up to the batter box and grounds out. The inning is over.
Clase is one of the better relief pitchers in the game, Gosselin is a career bench bat who hasn’t had an above-average hitting season since 2015. This was by all accounts a very bad matchup for the Angels and it should never have happened. The least we could do is make sure it never does again.
This game was a Shohei Ohtani start. The Japanese phenom is in the beginning stages of one of, if not the most memorable season in major league baseball history. He is by all accounts the best hitter and pitcher in his team with Mike Trout sidelined.
Ohtani batted second in this affair and his first two appearances against Civale were line-outs. By the time his third one came up, Ohtani had already left the mound, it wasn’t his most sharp start going four and two-thirds innings of two-run ball. Ohtani walked up to the plate and led off the bottom of the sixth with a bunt single down the third-base line, essentially beating the shift. That would be his last inning of play.
To give Ohtani that third at-bat in what was a short start, Maddon had to remove Taylor Ward from CF and put Ohtani in a corner spot. The Angels two-way star played right field for an inning and a third before his next turn to hit came up.
This happened on multiple occasions throughout the season, when Maddon was willing to push the envelope and give Ohtani an extra at-bat by moving him to right field, but only for short stints.
This is all very wrong.
Because of how the rule is set up when Ohtani is pitching a game in an American League park, the Angels have to give up the DH and play by the NL rules. Ohtani is a pitcher, hitting, but the only difference is that he bats at the top of the order because of his talents. If and when Ohtani’s day on the mound is over, the Angels need to do one of the following things.
Remove him from the game and be left with the normal pitcher’s spot in the order at a high position, usually first or second. Maddon will need to use pinch-hitters just as if he was managing a National League team and Ohtani will miss one or two at-bats in that game.
Replace Ohtani on the mound with a pitcher, but actually, remove one of his outfielders to move Ohtani to the outfield and keep his bat in play even if for only another plate appearance. This move puts a tremendous amount of stress on an already fatigued Ohtani and it also costs the Angels one outfielder and it doesn’t remove the need to keep pinch-hitting for the pitcher’s spot from that point forward.
Regardless of choice, the Angels essentially play at a disadvantage losing an outfielder or Ohtani himself once his start is over.
I don’t like this setup in place even with the National League rule still existent because as a sport, you’re punishing your most marketable player for no real logical reason and putting the Angels at a disadvantage for having their best DH option in that day’s pitcher.
Don’t tell me anything about tradition because they were more than happy to overlook this whole thing and let Ohtani be the SP and DH during the All-Star game, not an SP that was hitting and had to leave the game after his start. A big part of the summer classic in 2021 was the appeal of seeing Ohtani starting for the AL and also leading off. The Angels star only pitched one inning but came back to hit again in the top of the third inning. MLB opened an exception to not have to remove Ohtani after only one inning.
Despite all of this, I can understand the rationale that you want to enforce the rules from the National League if the Angels want to have their pitcher hitting. Those rules are there and one could make the argument, especially for the sake of the other 14 AL teams.
However, with the inclusion of the universal DH in the new CBA, it’s the ultimate shot in the foot if MLB doesn’t change this whole situation with an addendum. And it’s a very simple one.
The Shohei Ohtani rule
If a team chooses to have their pitcher hitting, he also becomes the designated hitter separately and earns the right to finish out the game with that position even after his day on the mound is over.
A team shouldn’t need to give up its designated hitter for a portion of the game just because he so happens to be an excellent starting pitcher.
We’ve seen marginal coverage about this dilemma that Maddon faced with Ohtani in the regular season. However one can imagine the stupidity of having to explain to new baseball fans that Ohtani has to move to RF and Justin Upton or some other high profile outfielder needs to leave the game for Shohei to remain in the lineup in game 1 of the ALDS. Or even worse, Ohtani needs to leave the game because he is too fatigued to play defense after a day on the mound.
Not only are you putting Ohtani in a very stressful situation, having to play defense after a day on the mound, something that’s never happened consistently with any player in the history of the sport, but you’re also forcing Maddon to remove one of his outfielders from the game.
That wasn’t a big deal in 2021 because rarely did the Angels have three great outfielders out there. But imagine a scenario where Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh take a step forward and Upton remains productive. You’re looking at a really bad situation.
The bottom line is that for every traditionalist view, one can find all sorts of arguments to be made. As far as I’m concerned there is no one here to justify putting Ohtani through this gauntlet and the Angels through this dilemma for the long term future, especially in a world where the DH is present in every game.
One could argue that the presence of this rule brings up a competitive advantage to the Angels. However I’d say that it is the exact opposite. The lack of this rule creates a competitive disadvantage to the Angels. There is no sense in punishing a team because their primary DH is also a pitcher.
The Angels or any other team that finds itself in a similar situation, if another two-way player breaks out, wouldn’t receive any sort of advantageous scenario that tops what any other team has. This is a rule for the benefit of the two-way athlete
The universal DH rule needs a Shohei Ohtani exception for the good of the game. Any point of view should be respected and given a fair review. However the competitive balance argument for teams playing against the Angels is somewhat short-sighted.
Shohei Ohtani or any other pitcher who turns out to be his team’s best option at DH, should be able to DH for the entire game that he starts, especially in a world with the universal designated hitter
Photo by Icon Sportswire|Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on twitter)