While he crushed baseballs all throughout the month of May, Bryce Harper's name was in the news this past weekend for being hit by a baseball on Friday night. In the seventh inning of Friday's game, the Washington Nationals trailed 4-2. There were two outs and a runner on second base, which meant that Harper represented the tying run. Reds manager Bryan Price called for lefty Tony Cingrani to replace Jumbo Diaz and face Harper. The very first pitch of the at bat was a 93 MPH fastball that drilled Bryce Harper right between the numbers.
I'm not a mind reader, so I'm not going to talk about any type of intent. As a few (hmmm) visiting Reds fans condescendingly and repeatedly pointed out all weekend (since we've all only been watching baseball since 2012, right?), there were several reasons that the old one pitch intentional walk did not make sense here. The HBP did put the tying run on base, which is generally not sound baseball strategy. Price did bring a lefty in prior to the at bat, which gave him the platoon advantage against Harper, but not on deck hitter Ryan Zimmerman. Pitches get away sometimes. That can be dangerous if a pitcher's plan is to attack a hitter inside.
Here are my feelings about whether or not it was intentional. Cingrani has never really been a control pitcher. He has a 4.47 BB/9 rate in his career... It was 4.97 last season. It's an absolutely ridiculous 7.08 so far in 2015. He went on to face seven hitters in Friday night's ballgame. He hit Harper and walked three of the other six men he faced. I believe that Cingrani's control is so bad that if he was attempting to intentionally hit Bryce Harper, he probably would have ended up throwing a fastball down the middle.
That doesn't excuse Cingrani's postgame antics, his lack of contrition, or Joey Votto's reaction at first base. After the game, we heard that Cingrani said this about Bryce Harper.
He should've jogged. Be a baseball player. Sorry I hit you... now run.
First off, it's awfully easy for a relief pitcher who never has to bat to say this. Cingrani knows that if the Nats do believe it was intentional and decide to retaliate, he isn't the one that's going to be wearing a 90+ MPH fastball because of it. Secondly, the HBP kept Bryce Harper out of Saturday's game. Cingrani injured a player and then complained that the injured player didn't run to first base. That's real mature.
How about this, Mr. Cingrani? If you want a hitter to run to first base, don't drill a guy with a 93 MPH fastball.. intentional or not. Grow up and accept that if you do hit a player with a weapon traveling at 93 MPH directly on his spine, it might take a few seconds for him to recover. Be a human being.
Votto and Harper got into a bit of a.... discussion at first base. It looked like it might turn into a shouting match, but both players appeared to handle the situation calmly enough. Votto seemed to be standing up for his pitcher and came off as kind of a villain to Nats fans. The more I watch the exchange, the less I think he was being a complete jerk about the situation. We don't know what was said, and Harper played it down after the game. For all we know, he might have been trying to defuse a situation that could have gotten worse. That said, Votto should really have just stayed out of it.
I'm not really one who believes in the whole eye for an eye approach. However, I did think that once we learned that Harper would miss Saturday's game with an injury directly related to the HBP, the Nats should have at least buzzed Votto's tower. No... This doesn't mean that they needed to plunk him. It means that I would have liked to see him backed off the plate with a purpose pitch inside. On Saturday, they didn't.
This is when the situation got even worse. Cincinnati threw rookie pitcher Raisel Iglesias in Saturday's game. Iglesias hit Nats starter Gio Gonzalez with a breaking ball when Gio was trying to bunt in the fifth inning. One inning later, following a Michael Taylor three run bomb, Iglesias hit Gonzalez on his pitching elbow with a 92 MPH fastball.
While I won't fully read whether there was any intent with Cingrani's HBP of Harper, I can certainly say that there did not appear to be any intent from Iglesias with Gio at the plate. Still, if a pitcher isn't comfortable enough to be throwing the ball inside to a pitcher with a .081/.104/.145 career batting line without hitting him, he should not be throwing the ball inside at all!
At this point, whether there's intent or not, there needs to be some acknowledgement from the Nationals pitchers that they're not going to stand for this. Otherwise, they're just letting the Reds (and the rest of the league) know that it's open season on Nats hitters. Attack the Nats hitters inside... If you miss too far in and hit them, they're not going to respond anyway.
So yes... I cheered when Tanner Roark hit Joey Votto. I was happy that Roark hit him in a fairly (hmmm) meaty area where it was likely to sting a bit, but unlikely to cause Votto any type of serious injury. I was not surprised to see Votto drop his bat and immediately run to first base*. Of course, Votto was probably ready for it after the events of the weekend and he didn't get hit right between the numbers where there's no (back to meaty) padding.
*To be honest, if you and your teammates are going to talk trash about a player taking 42 seconds to reach first base after getting hit by a pitch, you'd better respond the way that Votto did after Roark plunked him or else you're really going to seem like a whiny hypocritical punk.
That doesn't make me a fan of beanball wars in general. They're barbaric and don't serve much of a purpose outside of risking player games lost (to both teams) to either injuries or suspensions. There are just some times where I feel you need to let the opposing team know that you're sick of putting up with them hitting you... intentionally or not. When the opposing team drills your best hitter and then hits your starting pitcher twice in one game (once on his pitching elbow) the next day, they're seriously jeopardizing your team's health beyond this three game series. You shouldn't just stand by idly and let them keep doing that repeatedly without responding.