A lot of people are talking about what happened in the sixth inning of the Cardinals-Phillies game Wednesday evening. If you haven’t seen or heard or read about it yet, I will quickly rehash what happened. Cardinals pitcher Genesis Cabrera came into the game to start the sixth with the game tied 3-3. On his first pitch he hit Bryce Harper in the face. Harper left the game relatively unscathed compared to what you might expect and on Instagram post game said he was “fine” and “still has a face”.
Everyone was shaken up, as you might imagine, especially the pitcher, Genesis Cabrera. Shildt said at this point he would have taken him out of the game, but because there is a three-batter minimum for pitchers entering the game, he was not allowed to remove his visible distraught pitcher.
Asked Shildt if this event was a failure of the three-batter minimum rule, and before I could finish the question --— Derrick S. Goold (@dgoold) April 29, 2021
"Yes," he said. "This is a failure of the three-batter minimum rule."
He said he would have removed Cabrera immediately after hitting Harper and could not.
The next batter up was Didi Gregorius, another left-handed batter facing the left-handed Cabrera. Cabrera clearly did not have a feel for his fastball, but being forced to pitch anyway, sends his second pitch of the game into Gregorius’s back. At this point the Phillies are mad and you cannot really blame them. On two pitches two of their players have been pelted with a projectile soaring a near-lethal speeds. That is only two batters though, so the only way to get Cabrera out of the game is for him to be ejected for throwing at the batters intentionally, which he clearly was not. So Andrew McCutchen steps in to face Cabrera, who wants to throw this next pitch about as much as McCutchen wants to face it. Cutch hits a line-drive base hit, the Phillies score a run, and mercifully, Cardinals Manager Mike Shildt can remove Cabrera from the game.
Joe Girardi was pretty fired up on his zoom video. He wanted the pitcher ejected for the safety his Phillies players. Harper went to hospital for CT scan. Gregorius might need imaging of ribs, according to Girardi.— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyNBCS) April 29, 2021
So now, let’s talk about the three-batter minimum rule and why it is garbage.
First, let’s look at the problem it is trying to address: pace of play. The idea is that if a pitcher has to face three batters before being removed, managers will not be able to bring in a pitching specialist (like a LOOGY) to face a hitter in a key situation and thus, the game will move along without senseless pitching changes.
Here is the problem with that logic, though. Pitching changes are rarely senseless. The specialist pitcher situation comes up once, maybe twice a game and it is usually a really intense and interesting situation. All the other times a pitching change is made mid-inning is usually because the pitcher brought, for whatever reason, just does not have it that game. Forcing that pitcher to continue to pitch is not only cruel to the player, it is not pleasant for fans to watch someone struggle, and most importantly, as evidenced in what happened Wednesday night, it can be downright dangerous.
Pitching is not easy. It is an extremely precise athletic feat of which in difficulty we sometimes take for granted. A slight error in grip or release point or step and there could be tragedy. On top of that pitchers are asked to perform this task in stressed conditions, both mentally and physically. Wednesday night was a raining, humid evening in St. Louis, not some climate controlled room. And then on top of that there has been a huge emphasis this season on monitoring the ball for foreign substances. With all that going on, a pitcher is bound to have a bad night every once in a while. When that happens, a manager should not be needlessly hamstrung by a rule that makes the game less enjoyable.
The three-batter minimum rule just needs to go. It could be amended to allow a pitcher to be removed if they hit a batter or something, but then that could be gamed. It doesn’t work, just get rid of it. What I saw Wednesday night was horrible and cruel to every person involved, and if the meddling three-batter minimum rule did not exist, it would not have happened.