By Ronald Blum
AP Baseball Writer
SAN DIEGO — Mark Melancon thought back to 2010 or ‘11, when he was with the Houston Astros.
“Brad Mills came up to me before a game and said, ‘Hey, there’s a situation tonight where we might put you in left field for a hitter, so go take some fly balls,’” the reliever recalled his manager telling him. “I said, ‘You’re joking, right?’”
Melancon never made it out there, not with the Astros then or with the Pirates now. But Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon gained attention June 28 when left-hander Travis Wood and right-hander Spencer Patton alternated between left field and the mound in the 14th inning against Cincinnati, and Wood got the final three outs of a 7-2, 15-inning win with right-hander Pedro Strop in left field.
The moves were made of necessity, not Mad-ness. Might he employ the Maddon Medley with premeditation?
“You should show more creativity,” he said. “Everybody’s afraid of injury all the time. God, man, drive a car in Manhattan — you want to be afraid of injury, just walk down the street.”
Maddon didn’t invent the strategy. As Philippe Cousineau pointed out in the Society for American Baseball Research’s Fall 2011 journal, the strategy was employed by the New York Mets’ Davey Johnson with lefty Jesse Orosco and righty Roger McDowell against the Reds on July 22, 1986, and by the Cubs’ Lou Piniella with lefty Sean Marshall and righty Aaron Heilman against St. Louis on July 12, 2009.
Arizona’s Shelby Miller, usually a starting pitcher, pinch ran for Zack Greinke in the 12th inning against Pittsburgh on April 24 and went to left field in the 13th.
“I could have seen putting Mo in the outfield. I would have never had a problem that. I probably would have raised a lot of eyebrows,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Mariano Rivera, who loved to shag flies in the outfield before games and sustained a season-ending injury when his right knee buckled on the Kansas City warning track in May 2012.
Maddon’s spin-the-pitchers came about after he ran out of position players. Righty Joel Peralta relieved Trevor Cahill with two on and one out in the 13th, and Wood took over in left as Chris Coghlan came out of the game in a double switch. Joey Votto lined to leaping second baseman Ben Zobrist, who turned it into a double play, and Maddon exchanged a fist bump with Wood in the dugout.
Patton relieved to start the 14th, retired the leadoff batter, then went to left when Maddon wanted Wood to face Jay Bruce. Bruce grounded out, they switched places again, and Patton retired Adam Duvall on a grounder.
“After that first out, I was confused when I saw Joe coming out with a glove. He was bringing out Travis Wood’s glove,” Patton said. “I was just hoping that I didn’t mess anything up. Pitchers are used to standing in the outfield and watching guys hit and get fly balls and run them down, but not in front of 40,000 when the game is on the line.”
After the Cubs burst ahead with five runs in the 15th, Wood worked around a two-out single to finish as Strop manned left — without having any defensive plays.
Having succeeded with the merry-go-round, Maddon is intrigued about the possibility of doing it in the seventh or eighth inning.
“It’s something to be looked at down the road, where you could actually get a nice inning’s worth of work out of two pitchers, even two innings out of two guys based on the other team’s lineup left- and right-handed,” he said. “It’s something to be explored I think in a spring training setting.”
There is a limit. A manager cannot endlessly switch pitchers back and forth to other spots.
“A pitcher may change to another position only once during the same inning,” Rule 5.10 (d) states.
Baltimore’s Zach Britton, who got the All-Star Game save and leads the AL with 27, imagined what would happen if Orioles manager Buck Showalter asked him to go to the field.
“I think we’d laugh for a second, and then he’d be like, ‘Seriously, you’re going out there,’” Britton said. “If it was hit right at me, I think I’d be OK. We spend a lot of time shagging out there, but it’s completely different obviously in a game situation, and the last time I played outfield was in high school.”
The Yankees’ Andrew Miller looked at it from another viewpoint: He’s been exclusively a reliever since 2011, all in the American League — where there is a designated hitter.
“I think I could probably field OK. I think that maybe the pressure of a game situation might stress me out a little bit,” he said. “As long as I didn’t have to get any at-bats, I think I’d be all right.”