Max Scherzer misses hitting. He misses pitching to pitchers.
And yet the New York Mets right-hander is just fine with the full-time addition of the designated hitter to the National League as of this season, nearly 50 years after the American League adopted it.
“The biggest benefit,” the three-time Cy Young Award winner said, “is that the sport is under one set of rules.”
So now all Major League Baseball games, regardless of location, include a DH in the lineup. The ballot for Sunday’s All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium included a DH for the NL (reigning MVP Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies led the voting for that spot but is out with a broken left thumb and will be replaced by William Contreras of the World Series champion Atlanta Braves). And scoring is up in the NL in 2022.
“In the future, you might be able to do some type of realignment, because everyone has the same rules,” Scherzer said. “I don’t know what it would look like, but you have more possibilities to do that.”
Adding the DH should increase offense by putting a real batter in the lineup. It also changes a manager’s job by eliminating some of the decisions about pinch-hitting, double-switching, etc.
“I’ve thought about it a few times: ‘When’s the pitcher coming up?’” Arizona Diamondbacks skipper Torey Lovullo said early in the season.
Runs per game for NL teams were at 4.5 through June this season, an increase from 4.31 through June in 2021 (although still down from 4.78 in 2019).
Over that same portion of each year from 2017-21 (minus the pandemic-shortened 2020), pitchers for NL teams combined to produce a .154 batting average, .152 slugging percentage and .306 OPS with per-season average league-wide totals of 7.6 homers and 79.2 RBIs.
Compare that to the NL DH stats this year: .241 average, .408 slugging, .728 OPS, 159 homers and 567 RBIs.
“We don’t really think about it anymore. It’s just part of the game now,” Harper said. “The DH is here and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.”
Scherzer said he was hoping for additional tweaks to the way the DH works — he called it the “double-hook DH.”
Here’s how that would work: Either the player in the batting order as the DH would need to leave the game when his team’s starting pitcher gets removed or if the starting pitcher made a qualifying start by some measure — going five innings, say, or lasting 100 pitches — then his team would get to keep using its DH for the full game.
“If you connect the DH and the starting pitcher together, it would help promote keeping the starter in longer,” said Scherzer, who is 6-1 with a 2.15 ERA this season. “I feel like the game is using the starting pitcher less and less, and I think that’s just a problem from an aesthetic standpoint.”
Here are some perspectives on having the DH in the NL:
SLUGGER WHO WOULD RATHER NOT DH
“If I DH too much, I don’t want to be labeled something that I’m not. Personally, my favorite thing to do is to be out there in the field. I love playing first base. I feel like I can best contribute to the team by being out there. I’m young, I’m healthy, I’m fit, so I want to be out there as much as possible. When I’m older — if I’m still playing at 38, let’s say — yeah, sure, I’ll take a few extra DH days.” — Pete Alonso, New York Mets.
PLAYER WHO LIKES HAVING THE OPTION
“I grew up liking the National League style of the game. I really enjoyed seeing the pitcher hit and everything that went into the game with that. But this year, of course, it’s turned a little bit for me — being able to DH while (I was) hurt (earlier) really helped me out and helped my team out.” — Harper, able to bat when he couldn’t play the outfield because of an injured elbow, but now sidelined after getting hit by a pitch.
VETERAN DH NOW WITH AN NL CLUB
“It’s good for players: It will lengthen careers. It’s good for the game, I guess, because fans want to see hitters hit. And it protects pitchers, too, so they don’t have to hit or run the bases. … You have to commit to being a DH full-time or, when you get a chance to be a DH, you just need to commit to being a hitter. The first few years, it was hard for me to just DH. I had to embrace the position. It was a process.” — Nelson Cruz, Washington Nationals.
PITCHER WHO ENJOYED HITTING
“I enjoyed the grind of having to get in the cage to hit. I didn’t look at it as a problem. … I didn’t want to view myself as a pitcher trying to hit. No, my run means just as much as your run, so I’m going to run the bases the way you run the bases.” — Scherzer.
PITCHER OK WITH NOT HITTING
“There’s certain games where you’re definitely not excited to go up to the plate. You’ve struggled through a couple innings on the mound, and you’re just trying to catch your breath.” — Erik Fedde, Washington Nationals.
PITCHER ON HOW IT CHANGES THE ROUTINE
“In some ways, it’s easier to be in a better routine, because you don’t have to hit. So now every inning is the same for you. … It’s easier to just focus on pitching.” — Scherzer.
PITCHER ON WHY IT CAN BE HELPFUL FOR FOCUS
“I do know some guys would lose the strike zone when they faced pitchers. I just try to take the positive out of it: Facing a DH keeps you in your rhythm of really staying focused.” — Fedde.
MANAGER ON WHAT’S DIFFERENT
“I love the strategy of the pitcher hitting. It changes the game. You’re able to manipulate the lineup to create advantages — sometimes a disadvantage, if you have the wrong player in the wrong situation. It’s a different style of baseball, because you lose one portion of being strategic. But I love the idea of the offense being able to step up there and smash the baseball and put up crooked numbers.” — Lovullo.
___ AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed.
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