Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Head-first hurts

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Head-first hurts

by Matt Smith

WHGB11Josh Hamilton was one of the major question marks hanging over the Los Angeles Angels coming into the 2014 season.

If he could regain his position as a fearsome hitter then the Halos would be one step closer to pushing for playoff contention; if he got lost in a mire of wild swinging again then they’d need to hope someone else could pick up the slack.

As always seems to be the case with Hamilton, things haven’t turned out quite that simply. He had shown encouraging signs at the plate that he was being more selective over his first eight games. The trouble is, he’s not going to be stepping into the batter’s box again for at least six weeks after tearing a ligament in his left thumb whilst sliding head-first into first base.

There’s no doubt that the all-action head-first slide looks good; it gives the impression of a player going all out to try to be safe regardless of any risk to his body. It’s not a smart way to play the game though; the Angels needed Hamilton in their lineup for the next six weeks much more than they needed him to be safe at first in the seventh inning of an early April game.

Sliding into bases does pose an injury risk, whether head-first or with your legs, and, as with any risk, you have to weigh up the rewards for the effort. The Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman fractured his right thumb diving back into second base on Saturday and he’ll be a loss to Washington, but from second base through to home plate the slide is often your only option to get there quickly whilst avoiding a tag play. You accept the risk that it’s the right way to do it and every now and then a digit can get caught in the wrong place.

That’s not the case at first base. The rules specifically allow you to run through the bag and not be tagged out. It’s the quickest way to get there, as shown in an ESPN Sports Science experiment, and is much the safer way. In a crucial late inning moment when a throw to first base is high it can be worth the gamble to slide, but in any other case it just doesn’t make sense and calling it ‘playing hard’ is to overlook the facts.

Facts that include Josh Hamilton sitting on the sidelines for the next six weeks or so, rather than helping his team to win games that may prove to be the difference between making the playoffs or not.


Hamilton and Zimmerman were only two of the players to land on the Disabled List this week.

Much of the Tampa Bay Rays’ recent low-payroll defying success has been built on their young pitching talent and their ability to keep their hurlers relatively healthy.  That made it all the more painful a sight to see Matt Moore clutching his pitching arm elbow after throwing a pitch against the Royals on Monday.

Moore had problems with his elbow last season and was able to come through them. His consultation with Dr James Andrews didn’t provide a definitive prognosis so there remains some hope that he will not be added to the Tommy John surgery list, but the Rays will be looking at their pitching options with the potential that they could be without Moore’s services for the next year or so.

That fate has already been decided for another bright young pitching prospect. The Pirates hoped to add Jameson Taillon to their rotation at some point this season, joining fellow youngster Gerrit Cole as a great duo to build around for years to come. Instead, Taillon will spend the next year rehabbing after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow this week.

Elbow injuries to pitchers are a common theme, which makes them all the more frustrating as – rightly or wrongly – they seem like something the sport could do more to prevent.  Injuries will always be a part of the game though and we saw that this week when the Chicago White Sox’s outfielder Avisail Garcia landed awkwardly on his left shoulder when attempting a diving catch against the Rockies on Wednesday. Had he landed slightly differently he may have just been winded, instead he suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder and will now miss the rest of the season recovering from surgery.

When is a cheat not a cheat?

Cheat: verb, “act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage” (definition as per Oxford Dictionaries)

Cheat is a word that gets bandied about quite a bit, but despite the seemingly straightforward definition, it is a muddled label to apply to someone, based predominantly on subjective opinion.

Take the topical case of Michael Pineda, the New York Yankees’ resurgent pitcher, and the dirty mark on his pitching hand during Thursday’s game against the Boston Red Sox.

Rule 8.02, paragraph 4 of MLB’s Official Rules states that a pitcher shall not “apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball”. Within the Rules themselves, the only indication of what constitutes a foreign substance is in Rule 3.02, which explains that  “No player shall intentionally discolour or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery-paper or other foreign substance”.

If, as it appeared, Pineda was putting some pine tar on his pitching hand, and therefore onto the ball, then that would contravene the rules and be an illegal act. The Boston Red Sox TV crew made much of the footage, not surprising perhaps after two of Boston’s pitchers – Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester – were hauled over the coals for the same thing last season. However, after the game players from both teams collectively shrugged their shoulders.

Pineda claimed it was just dirt used to stop the ball from slipping from his grasp and – after seeing Omar Infante get hit in the face by a pitch this week – if a bit of dirt or similar helps to avoid pitches slipping into a batter’s head then you could understand players being relaxed about such ‘cheating’.

Something brewing in Milwaukee

We’ve seen teams get off to hot starts in the past many times, only to quickly fall away. Still, the Milwaukee Brewers were touted as a team that could potentially pull itself up into Wild Card contention this season and their MLB-best 9-2 record to start the year gives fans of the Brew Crew something to shout about again after their disappointing 74-88 season in 2013.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.