When and if the 2020 season begins, it will be played with a universal designated hitter. According to several published reports, it’s part of the proposal that’s been submitted to the Players Association by Major League Baseball.
With each team playing perhaps as many as 30 of its 82 games against the other league, it was obvious something had to give.
It’s a lot more unfair having the pitchers bat in perhaps 15 games, which could be the number of home games for National League teams in interleague play.
In 2020’s original schedule, the Orioles were set to play 10 of their 162 games at National League parks — three at St. Louis in April, two at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in June, two at Nationals Park and three in Cincinnati, both in August.
The games were spread out. In the early years of interleague play, which began in 1997, certain periods were designated for AL-NL play. Back then, the Orioles had interleague games for six straight days from June 13-18 and from August 29-September 3. They also had three interleague games June 30-July 2.
That was fine because everyone had interleague play concurrently. Once the Houston Astros joined the American League in 2013 to even the leagues at 15 teams each, an interleague game was necessitated each day. The designated period for interleague games vanished, and so did much of the excitement.
Interleague play is no longer special, although when the Orioles were contenders, their games against the Nationals, especially in Washington, were intriguing because of the heavy presence of Orioles fans in the D.C. area.
It was a bit strange watching the Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the National League West in Baltimore last September, and it would have been odd for the Orioles, who were scheduled to play in St. Louis for the first time in 17 years, to be the Cardinals’ opening night opponent.
With the Orioles playing only their four American League East opponents and the five National League East teams to cut down on travel, having pitchers bat in nearly 20 percent of games would put AL teams at a competitive disadvantage.
It’s easier for an NL team to find a position player who could use four additional at-bats each game than for a pitcher, who may not have batted in his professional career, to bat.
Last season, Oriole pitchers went a combined 1-for-12 in games at National League parks.
John Means, who had never batted professionally, singled in his only at-bat on July 24 at Arizona. On May 24, Means went 0-for-2 and drew a walk at Colorado.
In 2018, Oriole pitchers went 2-for-21. One of those hits was costly. After Dylan Bundy singled, he rolled an ankle running the bases and was sent to the 10-day injured list.
Although it might be fun to watch the strategy behind National League double-switches, it isn’t enjoyable to watch pitchers hit.
In recent years, the Orioles did have some pitchers who could hit.
Andrew Cashner is a lifetime .158 batter and hit a home run for San Diego in 2013. Bud Norris, who was 2-for-10 in three seasons with the Orioles, is a lifetime .157 batter with 12 RBIs.
Zack Britton, who began his career as a starter and was 5-for-8 (.625) in 2011, hasn’t batted since. Britton smacked the last home run by an Orioles pitcher.
Mychal Givens, who began his career as an infielder, was converted to a successful reliever after batting just .247 in six minor league seasons. Givens is hitless in his only two big league at-bats.
Two potential starters signed in February could have been productive.
Wade LeBlanc is a lifetime .250 (30-for-120) hitter. In 2010, LeBlanc hit .295 (13-for-43) for the Padres.
Tommy Milone is a lifetime .156 hitter (7-for-54), but Milone has a distinction. He is one of just 30 major leaguers who homered on their fist pitch. That happened on September 3, 2011, and he’s still waiting on his second home run.
With a universal DH, Milone might never get another at-bat.