Monday, August 29, 2011

Wright field: Astros? reliever pitches, plays outfield, pitches again

I couldn't tell if I was watching another Little League World Series game or a Major League Baseball game Tuesday night.

To be honest, I was wondering that well before Houston Astros skipper Brad Mills utilized a strategy that wouldn't seem out of place in Williamsport, but is very rarely used in the big leagues. His decision to go that route was simply the capper to a game filled with too many mental and physical errors to list and explain without taking up your whole afternoon.

The first step of Mills' strategy, which played out in the eighth inning of Houston's eventual 8-6 loss to the Colorado Rockies, was to bring in left-handed reliever Wesley Wright to start the frame against Carlos Gonzalez. Wright made that work, retiring his man on a foul out.

With right-handed slugger Troy Tulowitzki due next, Mills elected to bring in David Carpenter to pitch and sent his lefty reliever to right field, replacing Brian Bogusevic. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, with that move to right field, Wright became the first Houston Astros pitcher to play another position in the same game he pitched.

But he wasn't staying there long. After Carpenter got Tulowitzki to ground out weakly to shortshop, Mills had another move to make. Left-handers Todd Helton and Seth Smith ?�who cracked a 478-foot home run earlier in the game ?�were the next scheduled hitters, so Mills walked to the mound again and made the call to right field. Wright trotted back to the hill, with J.B. Shuck taking his spot in the outfield.

The whole scheme worked out perfectly. Wright would strike out Helton on a 3-2 pitch, and the unusual 1-2-3 inning was complete.

If you were scoring this game at home, you're probably in need of some assistance I'm not certified to provide for you. I'm sorry. But I can give you Mills' explanation for messing with your scorecard.


"We just wanted to use one lefthander in that situation," Mills said. "He's played the outfield, probably, somewhere down the road. He said he had. Those guys shag the ball every day in batting practice."

Wright confirmed that he played a little outfield back in high school, but that was eight years ago, and that experience was nothing like playing right field at Coors Field.

"I was really trying to have fun and focus on the pitch and make sure I got a good jump if the ball actually did come to me, because the last thing you want to do is miss it. So I was just trying to stay focused and make sure if it came to me, I caught it."

While new to the Astros, this isn't the first time this particular strategy has been used in Major League Baseball. The most recent case�was in 2009 when Lou Piniella, then manager of the Chicago Cubs, moved his left-handed reliever Sean Marshall to left field for one batter. The strategy worked then, too.

But despite the recent successes, it's not difficult to understand why managers don't employ the strategy more often. Who wants to be the one that gambles and has it backfire? Not many are willing to take that risk or face that potential backlash. Mills might feel the same way under normal circumstances, but with Houston having been mathematically eliminated from the playoff race on Monday, he didn't have a whole lot to lose rolling the dice this time.

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