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A Primer on the DH Rules for Cardinal Fans

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals-Workouts Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

While we don’t know what’s going to happen next season, we do know that the DH rule will be in place for both leagues this season. Perhaps some of you regularly watch American League games and are used to the DH and all of its associated rules, but many of us, including me, have only seen the DH rule in interleague play and certain playoff games. With opening day for MLB tomorrow and the Cardinals on Friday, I wanted to read to make myself familiar with all of the rules surrounding the DH, and I thought I would share a summary of what you need to know in case something unusual comes up this year.

THE DH IS AN OPTIONAL SUBSTITUTE FOR THE PITCHER ONLY, BUT IF USED, IT MUST BE LISTED IN THE PRE-GAME LINEUP CARD

*First, it goes without saying that unlike in high school, you can’t DH for the right fielder, only the pitcher, and DHing for the starting pitcher covers any subsequent pitchers in the game.

*The DH is not required, and a club may submit a 9-man lineup card with no DH and the pitcher batting. Even American League clubs using the DH since 1973 have been allowed to have a starting pitcher bat if they wanted. This has happened on occasion, but you probably don’t have to worry about it this season.

*If, the manager lists 10 players on the pre-game lineup card but fails to designate one player as a DH, and either the umpire or the presenter of either side’s lineup card notices the mistake before the umpire calls “Play,” the umpire must direct that the error be fixed and a DH designated.

*If the mistake is not noticed before the game starts, but is noticed after the game starts, the DH for the club making the mistake is terminated for the rest of the game. If the umpire is notified of the mistake after he calls “Play,” but before the defense takes the field, the pitcher will be placed in the batting order in place of any player, as chosen by the offending team’s manager. If the defense has already taken the field, the pitcher will be placed in the batting order in place of the player who has not taken a position. In either situation, the pitcher being placed in the batting order is considered to be a substitute, and the player removed is barred from re-entering the game. Also, in either situation, any play that takes place before the umpire is notified of the mistake is legal.

THE DH LISTED IN THE LINEUP CARD MUST BAT ONE TIME UNLESS THE OPPOSING CLUB CHANGES PITCHERS

This has been called the Earl Weaver rule. At the end of 1980, Earl Weaver, the manager of the Orioles, put a pitcher in the DH spot 21 times over a 22-game stretch, most frequently Steve Stone. Then he would wait until Stone’s spot came up in the lineup, ascertain the base/out situation and hand pick a pinch hitter for Stone that he thought was appropriate in that situation. One time he even started the lineup with a player at DH that was away from the club attending a funeral. This rule was changed after the 1980 season, purportedly because it was unduly altering pinch hitting statistics and it was considered that Weaver’s strategy was not within the spirit of the rules.

YOU CAN PINCH HIT OR PINCH RUN FOR THE DH

*The DH listed in the lineup card may be pinch-hit for, and the new player becomes the DH. A runner may also pinch run for the DH, and again, the new player becomes the DH.

*The pitcher in the game at the time may even pinch hit or pinch run for the DH and only the DH, but that move terminates the DH for the rest of the game for that club.

THE DH IS LOCKED TO ITS INITIAL SPOT IN THE BATTING ORDER

This rule is straightforward. If the DH starts the game in the #6 spot, for example, it can never move from that spot. A club is not allowed to make a double switch that would change the DH spot in the order.

MOVES THAT ARE LEGAL BUT TERMINATE THE DH FOR THAT CLUB

*The DH taking a position on defense. If this happens, the rules specifically state that the former DH (now position player) stays in his spot in the batting order, and the pitcher is required to be placed in the batting order in place of the substituted defender. If the manager makes a multiple substitution, then the pitcher still has to be placed in the order, but the manager gets to decide where the substitutions bat in the order.

*The game pitcher can pinch hit or pinch run for the DH and only the DH, but doing so terminates the DH. In this case, the default rule applies, which is simply that the substitute player bats in the replaced player’s position in the batting order. The DH is out of the game, the game pitcher is now inserted into the order in the DH’s spot, but now as a pitcher who is required to bat.

*A player on defense coming in to pitch terminates the DH. Simple default rules here. The defensive player is already in the game, and he doesn’t switch spots in the batting order just because he became a pitcher. The new fielder is inserted into the DH’s spot because there’s nowhere else for him to go.

*A pinch hitter batting for any player and then staying in the game to pitch results in the DH being terminated. Simple again. Suppose a player comes in to pinch hit for the right fielder. He’s inserted in the batting order in the right fielder’s spot. When his team takes the field, and he moves to pitcher, the new fielder that comes in the game is inserted into the DH’s spot, because, again, there’s nowhere else for him to go.

*The game pitcher switching from the mound to a position on defense terminates the DH. This will always present a multiple substitution situation, because not only is the original pitcher being inserted into the batting order, but someone else must also come in to pitch. That new pitcher is also inserted in the batting order, because there is no more DH.

*Keep in mind also that the Official Rules actually require a manager making a multiple substitution to tell the umpire-in-chief where he wants them to bat in the order. The Comment to that Rule states that if the manager fails to immediately notify the umpire-in-chief of his choice, the umpire-in-chief has the authority to make the choice himself.

DH IN THE BULLPEN

*There is a rule that states that a DH may not sit in the bullpen unless also serving as the bullpen catcher. The rule does not say that the DH can’t be in the bullpen or warm up as a pitcher in the bullpen, only that he can’t sit in there. I can’t say I understand the genesis of or the need for this rule.

LET’S APPLY THE RULES

Not that any of this would happen, but let’s have some fun and go over some examples.

Example 1

Tyler O’Neill is the DH batting 5th and Lane Thomas is in LF in the #8 spot. Adam Wainwright is pitching. Shildt wants to move O’Neill to LF. Can he do it? What result if he does?

ANSWER: Yes, he can do it. If he does, O’Neill stays in the #5 spot, but he is no longer the DH. He’s now the left fielder. The DH is terminated. Adam Wainwright is now required to be placed in the order as the pitcher in the #8 spot.

Example 2

Suppose Brett Cecil convinces Shildt that he’s the best DH option the Cardinals have on a particular day. He is not the starting pitcher that day. Shildt puts Cecil in at DH batting in the #9 spot. Then suppose Shildt wants to bring Cecil in to pitch in the 6th inning. Can he do it? If so, what result?

ANSWER: Yes, he can do it. If he does, the DH is terminated. Cecil stays in the 9th spot in the order, but is no longer the DH. He’s a pitcher required to bat.

Example 3

Continue with the previous example, and further suppose that Shildt decides Cecil is done pitching in the 8th inning and brings Ryan Helsley in to pitch. Can Cecil still DH? What result here?

ANSWER: Cecil may not continue to DH. The moment Cecil became the pitcher was the moment the DH was terminated. Cecil is no longer the DH, he’s merely the pitcher who is now required to bat. When Helsley comes into the game, he comes into the game as the pitcher required to bat 9th.

Example 4

Ok, but let’s assume that Cecil is such a stud hitter that Shildt doesn’t think he can afford to take Cecil’s bat out of the lineup. Assuming Shildt wants Cecil to continue to hit but not pitch anymore that game, is there anything Shildt can do?

ANSWER: Other than leaving Cecil in the game to pitch, Shildt’s only option is to put Cecil at another position in the field. Let’s say he wants his best defense possible out there, and he puts Cecil in RF to replace Dexter Fowler, who is batting 6th. In that scenario, Cecil stays in the #9 spot playing RF. If Helsley comes in to relieve Cecil on the mound, he will be placed in the order in the #6 spot. There is still no DH.

Example 5

Ok, you all might be thinking “Skyric, you’re really not that funny, none of this crap is going to happen in a real game, and besides this stuff is easy.” Ok, you got me. Now let’s go over a real scenario that actually happened last year that combines a bunch of these rules.

Suppose the Tampa Bay Rays are playing the Boston Red Sox at home and it’s 2019. Rays starter Charlie Morton has pitched 7 innings. The bottom of the 7th ended with Rays DH Austin Meadows on deck. The Rays are ahead 3-2 going into the top of the 8th. Austin Meadows is the DH in the #3 spot and Ji-Man Choi is at 1B in the #9 spot. Rays Manager Kevin Cash brings in lefty Adam Kolarek to pitch to lefty Jackie Bradley to start the top of the 8th. Red Sox manager Alex Cora counters with right-handed pinch hitter Sam Travis, but it doesn’t work and Travis pops out to the first baseman. Now right-handed hitting Mookie Betts is up. Cash brings in righty Chaz Roe to pitch to Betts, but he doesn’t take Kolarek out of the game. Instead, he moves Kolarek from the mound to first base and takes Choi out of the game. After Roe retires Betts on a fly ball to left, Cash puts Kolarek back on the mound to face lefty Rafael Devers, removes Roe from the game and brings in Nate Lowe to play first base.

Is all this legal? Is the DH still in the game? At the end of all this, where are Kolarek and Lowe supposed to be in the Rays’ batting order?

ANSWER: This is all legal. Kolarek was allowed to move from the mound to another position on defense once per inning. When Kolarek switched from pitcher to first base, that terminated the DH for the Rays. That means that both Kolareak (the old pitcher and now the first baseman) and Roe (the new pitcher) both had to be inserted into the batting order at that moment, which presented a multiple substitution situation. Rays Manager Cash had the right to decide whether Kolarek was put into the #3 spot to replace DH Meadows or the #9 spot to replace 1B Choi.

In the actual game, home plate umpire Angel Hernandez said that Cash never told him what spot he wanted Kolarek and Roe to go into. Thus, he made the choice himself and put Kolarek in the #3 spot to replace DH Meadows and Roe in the #9 spot to replace 1B Choi. There was no wrong choice, and the choice Hernandez made was a sensible one. While it is true that Kolarek went to play first base, the DH being forfeited means that original pitcher is coming into the order in place of the DH. At the end of the day, when Kolarek went back to the mound to pitch to Devers, he stayed in the #3 spot and Lowe replaced Roe in the #9 spot when Lowe came in to play 1B.

I stopped the hypothetical with 2 outs where I did, because in the actual game, this whole scenario confused Red Sox manager Alex Cora, Angel Hernandez and the whole umpiring crew. When Kolarek came back to the mound to face Devers, Cora came out to talk to the crew, and apparently he didn’t like the explanations. The umpires huddled together, talked to both managers, and even used the instant replay system to call New York. In total, there was about a 20-minute delay before Kolarek got to pitch to Devers and retired him with a grounder on the first pitch. The Rays ended up winning the game. You can check out the boxscore from Retrosheet here.

Cora seemed to think there was an illegal substitution of some kind and actually played the game under protest. The protest was dropped when, after being informed by MLB the Red Sox were going to lose, the club failed to file the required written complaint. Cora didn’t get too deep into his thinking with the press, but he appeared to believe that when both Kolarek and Roe were in the game, that the Rays also still had a DH in the game. Maybe he believed that Kolarek should have been in the #9 hole and Lowe should have ended up in the #3 hole. Maybe Hernandez didn’t explain himself in a way that made any sense to Cora. Hernandez only provided his official explanation after the game. Maybe Cora didn’t know the rules. The only gripe Cora could have possibly had was if the Rays pinch hit for the #3 hitter in the bottom of the 8th and announced it as a substitution for the DH Meadows or if Meadows himself tried to come up to bat.

What is clear is that the whole episode was ridiculous. There’s no good reason that it should have taken an experienced four-person umpiring crew 20 minutes to sort that out. No phone call to the league office should have been necessary. When Cash moved Kolarek from the mound to first base and brought in Roe to pitch, he should have told Hernandez right away where he wanted them in the order. If Cash didn’t immediately say something, Hernandez should have asked him. Or maybe not, because there’s another rule that says a substitute for the DH does not have to be announced until it is the DH’s turn to bat. Either way, the issue of who was batting where did not matter, as long as Cora was told by someone where they were placed in time for him to make a pitching decision. Why they were placed where they were was really irrelevant. If Cora came out to argue, Hernandez should simply have told him there was no more DH, it was a multiple substitution situation, and Cash could decide where to put the substitutes. Problem solved in less than 10 seconds.

The strategy that Cash used is actually pretty cool. A club would typically only want to forfeit the DH like that late enough in the game where they wouldn’t run out of bench players and risk having a pitcher actually have to hit. But executed correctly, it can allow a manager to maintain a platoon advantage in the critical late innings of a close game. That was not the first time the Rays had done it that season, and they had done it in prior seasons. It’s basically the American League variant of a strategy that Whitey Herzog used when managing the Cardinals back in this game on September 22nd, 1987. Todd Worrell, who got the last out of the top of the 8th, gave up a home run to Mike Schmidt to lead off the top of the 9th to put the Phillies within one run. Next up was lefty Von Hayes, so Herzog put Worrell in right field and brought the lefty Ken Dayley in to pitch in right fielder Lance Johnson’s spot in the batting order. Then when Dayley retired Hayes, he put Worrell back on the mound, brought in John Morris to play right field, and Worrell retired the rest of the side for the save. Herzog had executed this maneuver in a partial manner a couple of times in 1986 and even had the stones to put Worrell in right field in the top of the 9th with the Cards clinging to a 1-0 lead in Game 6 of a must-win NLCS game against the Giants in 1987. All of those other times, Worrell stayed in right field and did not come back in to pitch.

But guess what? Remember my hypothetical told you to assume it was 2019? That was not an accident. None of this can happen in 2020 because of the three-batter minimum rule. Meanwhile, batters will still try to call time-out after every pitch so they can dig in the batter’s box and adjust their batting gloves three times. Thanks, Commissioner. This is why we can’t have nice things.