Tag Archives: Arizona Diamondbacks

Kevin Towers, We Hardly Knew Thee …

Towers-La RussaIf we’re gonna remember Bo Porter when he’s canned, seems only right to do the same for Kevin Towers. The GM who brought a lot of toughness and not too many victories to the desert as of late was canned Thursday by new boss Tony La Russa.

Towers’ grit-based organizational structure came to prominence last month when the D’Backs drilled Andrew McCutchen, because Pirates closer Ernesto Frieri accidentally hit Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt on the hand a day earlier, breaking a bone. It led to a protracted discussion about how, while an eye-for-an-eye mentality once played well on baseball’s landscape—and despite Towers’ own overt statements to the contrary—things have kind of changed.

That said, La Russa has never been one to shy from grit. He thrives on it, in fact, with an entire book—Buzz Bissinger’s 3 Nights in August—being more or less dedicated to dissecting La Russa’s strategy of drilling other players in response to stuff they or their teammates did.

No, La Russa probably cared more about Towers’ record than his team’s treatment of Andrew McCutchen. The problem for Towers: That hasn’t been strong, either. After two straight .500 seasons, Arizona is 59-81 this year. Towers has traded away Trevor Bauer, Ian Kennedy, Jarrod Parker and Juston Upton, among many others, without getting a whole lot in return. His handling of free-agent signee Brandon McCarthy—who struggled after being instructed against throwing his cutter—drew particular notice once McCarthy joined the Yankees, kickstarted his best pitch and began to dominate again.

(Lest anyone think that La Russa and Towers are pure opposites, check out this story from 2011, in which each man is separately accused of gamesmanship practices that fall someplace between evil-genius and good-for-a-chuckle.)

Now on the hot seat: Gritty Kirk Gibson.

 

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Hey, Kevin Towers: the Pursuit of Justice Doesn’t Always Make You Right. Sometimes it Just Makes You a Bully

McCutchen drilledSince taking over the Diamondbacks in 2010, general manager Kevin Towers has aimed to turn his franchise into the rootinist, tootinist, unwritten rules followingest team in the land. He installed noted red-ass Kirk Gibson in the manager’s seat. He went on the radio  and claimed  that “it’s going to be an eye for an eye, and we’re going to protect one another,” adding that “ if you don’t follow suit or you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

Well, Randall Delgado belongs in a Diamondbacks uniform. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Delgado has barely earned his keep when it comes to good pitching (5.61 ERA over 34 games in relief), but he has to be in Towers’ good graces after Saturday night’s performance. The gap between pleasing one’s superiors and appropriate behavior is where the crux of this story lies.

It started on Friday, when Pirates closer Ernesto Frieri inadvertently hit Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt on the hand. It was unquestionably a mistake—a fastball that sailed inside and barely clipped the batter, who flinched backward a hair too slowly. If D’Backs brass hadn’t decided to retaliate yet at that point, they probably gained clarity when the diagnosis came in: Goldschmidt’s hand was fractured and he’d miss significant time.

The Pirate to bear the retaliatory target was Andrew McCutchen—you hit our best player, we’ll hit yours—and Delgado drilled him in the ninth, after missing with his first offering (which came up and in, but not up and in enough), then sending a decoy breaking ball away. His third pitch, at 95 mph, hit McCutchen sqare in the spine. The outfielder gave no notice to the macho piece of Code saying that drilled batters should act like it didn’t hurt, instead going down as if he’d been shot. (A heater into the backbone will do that to a guy in ways that being drilled in the thigh will not.) On his way to first, he spiked his bat in anger. (Watch it here, including video of the leadup.)

For those who need further proof of intent, when Towers went on his radio diatribe last year, he specifically called out his team’s lack of response when Goldschmidt was hit: “Goldy gets dinged, and no retaliation. It’s like, ‘Wait a minute.’ If Goldy’s getting hit, it’s an eye for an eye. Somebody’s going down or somebody’s going to get jackknifed.” So there.

(Worth noting: Goldschmidt was hit three times in 2013, all without response, all with Wade Miley on the mound for Arizona. Was Miley talked to? To judge by his egregious use of force this spring, yes.)

After the game, McCutchen took issue less with the drilling itself than with its details. “Retaliation is going to happen in this game, but there is a right way to do it,” he said in an MLB.com report. “They had plenty of chances. First inning, do it. Perfect time: one out, guy on second base. Get it over with. But they wanted to wait it out, wait until the ninth, second and third.”

Indeed, Arizon had first base open with one out and McCutchen at bat in the first inning. It is a tailor-made circumstance for those with pain on their minds. Trouble is, Gibson had a similar situation in June—first base open against the Brewers—and when he used it to drill Ryan Braun, it ended up costing his team the game.

So he waited. Even if Arizona’s need to retaliate is highly questionable, the method of execution Gibson chose is not. The game was tied in every one of McCutchen’s preceding at-bats, when allowing a baserunner in the name of vendetta would not just be wrong, it would have been even stupider than what the D’Backs ended up doing.

Gibson’s act might have played well when he was starring for the Tigers in the 1980s, but the game has changed. That kind of response to a clearly benign situation is no longer acceptable. McCutchen gets huge credit for not charging the mound, but that’s a possibility—if now a downright likelihood, and not just with the Pirates—if Arizona pitchers continue their reckless ways.

 

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On the Impracticality of Hitting Opponents Out of Anger, Arizona Diamondbacks Edition

Braun drilled

This is what it looks like when a plan doesn’t work out.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, angry with the Brewers for a variety of reasons, and with Ryan Braun for some very specific other reasons, finished a passel of business Tuesday in the span of two pitches. The first sailed behind Braun, the next drilled him in the backside.

Milwaukee’s response: Hit ‘em where it hurts.

Things grew heated in the sixth, when Milwaukee right-hander Kyle Lohse hit Chris Owings in the upper back, the ricocheting ball knocking his helmet off his head. It did not bear the marks of an intentional pitch; it was about the slowest fastball in Lohse’s arsenal during a close game, and the right-hander visibly blanched when the pitch made contact. (Watch it here.)

By itself, this may not have been enough to fully rile the D-Backs. But when, two batters later, Lohse threw a slider over the head of pitcher Mike Boslinger—who was trying to bunt Owings to second—Arizona took note. This pitch, too, was almost certainly unintentional. Why would anybody want to drill the pitcher in a two-run game? Much more likely, Lohse was trying to put a pitch in a difficult-to-bunt location. (In that, at least, he succeeded.) Add to that the fact that he grazed Didi Gregroius with a slider in the first inning, and manager Kirk Gibson’s mind was almost made up for him.

The very next inning, he had what he must have felt was a tailor-made situation. Not only were there runners on second and third with one out, leaving first base open, but the batter was Ryan Braun. The same Ryan Braun who Gibson was not at all shy about slagging last year, in response to the fact that the 2011 NL MVP led the Brewers to a taut playoff win over Arizona, and later admitted to have been juicing at the time.

“If I get a chance to see Braun, I got a question for him, right to his face,” said Gibson last year, in an Arizona Republic report. “Is he about rehearsed by now? About ready to come out? He’s probably been practicing at theater school somewhere. Anyway, she was looking at how things like that can influence people’s opportunities and the opportunity to do something like that.”

So: Pissed-at-the-present plus pissed-at-the-past apparently equals send-your-reliever-out-for-some-dirty-work. Arizona pitcher Evan Marshall sent a 94-mph fastball behind Braun’s back, drawing a warning from plate ump Ted Barrett. His next pitch was even faster, and connected with the small of Braun’s back. Barrett ejected him on the spot. Not so oddly, Gibson seemed delighted when Marshall returned to the dugout. (Watch it here.)

The plan, of course, backfired. Gibson strategized as best he could, using his statement to set up the double play in an instance when he would have been justified in ordering an intentional walk to do the same. But his team’s 4-3 lead turned into a 7-4 deficit when the next hitter, Jonathan Lucroy, touched reliever Brad Ziegler for a grand slam. (Watch it here.)

Oops.

The Diamondbacks have talked a lot of late about the need to stick up for their own in ways just like this, and followed up in as overt a way as he could. That’s the thing about planning, though—without execution, it doesn’t amount to a whole hell of a lot.

The teams have two more games, today and Thursday, with which to continue sending messages. If Gibson’s astute, he’ll recognize not only that he took his best shot (two of them, in fact), and that it didn’t work out so well for him. His slate should be clean. If the Brewers are astute, they’ll recognize that Lucroy gave them the best response for which they could ever have hoped.

Even-steven, everybody. Now go play some ball.

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Spring Drill Exchange in Arizona Sets Tone for D-Backs

Wade Miley

Mr. Miley

There are benefits to blanket warnings that your team will no longer tolerate opposing pitchers throwing at your players. Say it enough, and back it up once or twice, and maybe people will believe it to be true.

Of course, should your pitcher, under said blanket, hit somebody unintentionally, cries of innocence tend to fall on deaf ears.

This is part of what made last week’s HBP exchange between the Diamondbacks and Rockies so confusing. Perhaps Arizona pitchers are training up their tough-guy attitude, which would help explain Wade Miley putting a fastball into Troy Tulowitzki’s calf on Wednesday.

It sure seemed like retaliation, coming as it did after  Rockies farmhand Tommy Kahnle hit Arizona’s Mark Trumbo in the back—which itself came after Diamondbacks GM. Kevin Towers said on his local radio show last October that “Come spring training, it will be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye,” and that pitchers who don’t agree “probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

Unless there’s some unknown beef between Kahnle—whose lack of control has contributed to his never having pitched above the Double-A level—and Trumbo, the initial volley was almost certainly a case of a misplaced pitch. Was Miley out to prove that his team won’t tolerate wildness from farmhands?

But Towers’ statement—along with the facts that Miley has excellent control and Tulowitzki is an obvious retaliatory target—eliminates the perception that the drilling was a mistake. Even if the drilling was a mistake.

It was almost certainly a mistake when, later in the game, Arizona pitcher Jimmie Sherfy—a 22-year-old whose career consists of 17 1/3 innings at or below A-ball—hit Colorado’s Michael McKenry. Again, however, thanks to Towers’ decree, it didn’t matter. The Rockies responded in kind, right-hander Raul Hernandez throwing a pitch behind Jesus Montero in the eighth, at which point plate ump Doug Eddings finally saw fit to warn both dugouts.

It barely matters that Towers followed up his initial statement to clarify that he wasn’t in support of hitting guys on purpose, but rather if “our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way.” He added that his point was “about pitching inside effectively with purpose.”

Yeah, but still. Damage done.

Spring training is a great place to settle old scores—atone for injustices of the past when the games don’t count and tee times await those who get thumbed from ballgames early. Turning it into a proving ground for new scores, however, is reckless. Tulowitzki left that game and had not returned to the lineup as of the end of last week.

If Miley was throwing at Tulo, he was out of line. If the pitch legitimately got away from him, he can thank his GM for causing the rest of us to doubt that to be true.

(H/T to Troy Renck, who shares his own terrific insight at the Denver Post.)

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When Hot Talk Radio Blows Up: D-Backs GM on the Softness of His Pitchers

Kevin TowersKevin Towers did a lot of things with his weekly show on KTAR 620AM in Phoenix on Tuesday.

He showed why open discussion of baseball’s unwritten rules from an insider’s perspective can a bad idea.

He illustrated the gap between a normal response to a situation, and a baseball response.

And, in case any doubt remained, he proved conclusively that he holds some old-school opinions when it comes to this kind of thing.

In discussing the team’s lack of retaliation last season when provoked—on the same day that he fired D-Backs pitching coach Charles Nagy, no less—Towers intoned that he expected more from his pitchers when it comes to keeping the opposition honest.

“Come spring training, it will be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye and we’re going to protect one another,” he said. “If not, if you have options, there’s ways to get you out of here and if you don’t follow suit or you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

Towers referenced his team’s 8-1 loss to the Dodgers on Sept. 9, specifically the behavior of some Los Angeles players as they celebrated a six-home-run game in their dugout. It did not make him feel respected.

“I was sitting behind home plate that game and when it showed up on the Diamondvision of stuffing bananas down their throats, I felt like we were a punching bag,” he said. “Literally, if I would have had a carton of baseballs, I would have fired them into the dugout from where I was sitting behind home plate.”

Because, you know, in his sport, justice is meted out by throwing baseballs at a guy.

He went on to describe a moment later in the month when first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was drilled, but Arizona pitchers did not respond. Towers: “Goldy gets dinged, and no retaliation. It’s like, ‘Wait a minute.’ If Goldy’s getting hit, it’s an eye for an eye. Somebody’s going down or somebody’s going to get jackknifed.” (As noted by Hardball Talk, Wade Miley was the pitcher all three times Goldschmidt was drilled last season.)

It made for captivating radio. It also earned the GM national attention, and not in a good way. Yesterday he circled back to clarify that “going down” and getting “jackknifed” are distinct from getting drilled. (Which is true, even if it’s difficult to square with his personal inclination to throw baseballs at the Dodgers.)

“I’m not saying hit players on purpose,” he said in an MLB.com report. “I’m saying if our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way; we need to make the opposing hitters uncomfortable at the plate and pitch in with purpose and take that inner third away.”

He cited an instance in which the Padres retaliated for a batter hit by Arizona closer Heath Bell by throwing inside to Aaron Hill.

“The bat went up in the air and it knocked him off his feet,” Towers said. “I said, ‘You know what, that’s baseball.’ They weren’t trying to hurt Aaron Hill. They were protecting their player. It was pitched in with purpose to send a message. I applaud that, and that was from the other club. It’s the way baseball is played. He ended up getting him out on the outer half because he took away the inner half.”

Ultimately, it’s a stretch for an old-school baseball guy to expect that most people outside the game will understand his perspective on the subject (especially if he devolves into prattle about throwing knockdown pitches from the stands). One of Towers’ problems, of course, is that even the people within his own organization didn’t seem to understand him. He wasn’t pleased with Kirk Gibson’s lack of response when players were thrown at this season, and the topic played a role in his dismissal of Nagy.

The idea of retaliatory pitches can be debated all day and into tomorrow, but Towers’ comments planted him within the baseball mainstream. The unwritten rule he broke was in talking about it in anything other than platitudes to begin with. 

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How Not to Approach the Concept of Retaliation: L.A. Story Ends Very, Very Badly

Dodgers-DBacksSome will blame baseball’s unwritten rules, the sport’s ingrained system of on-field justice, for last night’s disgraceful display at Chavez Ravine. They will decry the eye-for-an-eye mentality, the brutal delivery of fastballs and the ugly results of the punch-throwing scrum in the seventh-inning.

What they will not acknowledge is that baseball’s unwritten rules exist precisely to avoid this kind of confrontation. Because Tuesday night’s throwdown between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks was a study in what not do during the course of a baseball game as it pertains to baseball’s Code.

  • Retaliation for an incidental drilling—especially one so incidental that it required umpire intervention to confirm that it even happened—is simply not necessary. This was the state of affairs after Cody Ross was grazed by a Zack Greinke pitch in the fifth inning.
  • Even if what happened next was retaliation for Ross, it would at least give Ian Kennedy a reason for his actions, no matter how insufficient. In the sixth inning, the D-Backs right-hander ignored the tenet mandating that one never drill a batter intentionally above shoulder level, and hit Yasiel Puig in the nose with a 92-mph fastball. Puig remained on the ground for several minutes while trainers attended to him.  (Watch it here.)
  • Greinke responded an inning later by hitting Miguel Montero between the numbers. Usually, when catchers are hit in a retaliatory fashion, it is because they called for the pitch that made the retaliation necessary in the first place. In Montero’s case, had Kennedy’s pitch to Puig hit the catcher’s glove it would have ended up below the knees. (Watch it here.)
  • Regardless, that blow should have ended hostilities. Kennedy drilled a Dodger in a wildly inappropriate manner, and Greinke responded according to the Code. It wasn’t enough to settle Kennedy down, however. In the bottom half of the seventh, he threw his first pitch to Greinke—another 92-mph fastball—directly for the head. Greinke ducked and the ball glanced off his upper shoulder.
  • Usually, benches clear when an aggrieved hitter—somebody who has just been hit or knocked down—takes issue with the pitcher. Ron Washington once described the situation this way, back when he was the third-base coach for the A’s and Frank Thomas, the team’s designated hitter, had been drilled by Ted Lilly. “We all saw what happened, but Frank took it calmly, so we took it calmly,” he said. “If Frank had taken it with an uproar, we’d have taken it with an uproar. We have to wait for the reaction of the guy who it happened to. If Frank had charged him, there would have been a fight. If Frank had raised some hell going down to first base, we’d have raised some hell. But Frank took it calmly and went on down there, the umpire checked everything, and we played baseball.”

On Tuesday, Greinke did take it calmly. It was his teammates—led by Puig—who escalated things from that point, racing from the dugout and quickly getting physical. (Watch it here.) The rest of the action was described succinctly by Nick Piecoro of the ArizonaRepublic:

Reliever J.P. Howell charged at Diamondbacks assistant hitting coach Turner Ward and nearly flipped him over a railing near the on-deck circle. Puig appeared to land a tomahawk swing on Diamondbacks’ bench player Eric Hinske. Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire looked apoplectic as he exchanged words with Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson and third-base coach Matt Williams. Even Dodgers manager Don Mattingly got in on the action, wrestling Diamondbacks bench coach Alan Trammell to the ground.

Only two things happened as they should have. First was Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz jumping in between Montero and Greinke after the former was drilled in the seventh. (It was the inability of the Dodgers’ other catcher, A.J. Ellis, to do that very thing that allowed Carlos Quentin to reach the mound during the April brawl that ended with Greinke’s collarbone broken.) The other was Greinke, on first base after being drilled, responding by trying to take out Arizona shortstop Didi Gregorius with a hard slide at the front end of an attempted double-play—just like they used to do in the old days. (Greinke ended up getting a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 5-3 victory. Watch it here.) Ultimately, the primary takeaway from this unfortunate state of affairs was that Ian Kennedy threw two pitches at opponents’ heads in a two-inning span. The guy has already proven willing to harbor ill-will against the Dodgers, throwing two pitches at Clayton Kershaw last season in response to a year-old grudge. Even more pertinent is the fact that he seems to enjoy this kind of thing. Last year he led the National League with 14 hit batters, even with otherwise good control—he walked only 55 over more than 200 innings. The Dodgers will get theirs, at some point. In the interim, MLB will certainly  step in and get some of its own. Had the unwritten rules worked as intended, none of it would have been necessary.

Update (6/14): Suspensions have been handed down. As expected, Ian Kennedy got the worst of it.

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Matt Carpenter, Drilled Three Times: ‘I Wouldn’t Expect Anything Different.’ St. Louis Responds Accordingly

3When a pitcher clearly has no intention of hitting a batter, the act is unlikely to draw much in the way of rebuke. When it happens three times in the same game, however, to the same batter, you better believe that an eyebrow will be raised.

On Tuesday, Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter hit the trifecta against Arizona. More appropriately, Arizona hit the trifecta against Carpenter. None of the pitches came close to looking intentional.

* First time: Seventh inning,  St. Louis trailing by one run and a man on first with one out. Not a situation for a pitcher to make a statement, not to mention that the ball hit Carpenter’s hand as he was squaring to bunt.

* Second time: Ninth inning, one out in a tie game. Again, not a situation for a pitcher to make a statement.Carpenter was hit on the forearm with a pitch that darted inside at the last moment.

* Third time: This looked like the most intentional of the bunch, but drilling somebody on purpose in the 13th inning of a tie game is simply not done. (Watch them all here.)

There was no lingering disagreement between Carpenter and an angry D’Backs pitcher, because each of his HBPs came against a different guy. For each of the pitches the catcher was set up inside.

“That’s what they wanted to do to me and a couple of other left-handers,” said Carpenter, who was hit three times all last season, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I wouldn’t expect anything different. You miss in two spots. Either you miss over the plate or you miss and hit somebody. It’s just the way it is when you pitch inside.”

Still, a three-pack of HBPs is a three-pack of HBPs. The Cardinals, however, were walking a fine line when it came to payback on Wednesday. St. Louis already had a short bullpen due to a doubleheader last week; the 14 innings on Tuesday added additional strain. Also, Yadier Molina dropped his suspension appeal following his recent ump-bumping incident (itself laden with unwritten rules) and sat out Wednesday (which he would have done anyway, following Tuesday’s marathon).

All of which is to say that St. Louis, already undermanned, could hardly afford to have a pitcher or a catcher tossed in the name of fulfilling retaliatory expectations. Were there going to be payback, it had to be subtle.

And it was, right there in the first inning. When Carpenter’s second-base counterpart on the Diamondbacks, Willie Bloomquist, came up for his first at-bat on Wednesday, he was buzzed—a fastball came in just under his armpits—not drilled. The Cardinals left little doubt that they were paying attention.

Cardinals broadcasters Dan McLaughlin and Ricky Horton (a former big league pitcher himself) summed it up nicely on the telecast:

DM: There’s someone from Arizona who needs to properly, professionally get one in the ribs or the back, because Matt Carpenter was hit three times last night.

RH: I think that we just saw it.

DM: That’s not enough if I’m Matt Carpenter. What did that prove? You pitched inside. So what?

RH: Well, he came in way inside, with the idea. I think the message was sent. There was no pain to it, if that’s what you’re looking for.

DM: I want pain. [Laughs]

RH: I thought that’s where you were headed with that.

DM: Pain, Rick.

RH: Well you have the message and you have pain, Dan. You’ve sent the message and maybe you were a little light on the pain.

McLaughlin clarified that he was kidding about the pain, Horton added that a subtle message worked just fine in this situation, and everybody appeared to be happy to move on.

(St. Louis pitchers did hit Bloomquist in the seventh, and shortstop Didi Gregorius twice, but all seemed to lack intent. Gregorius was hit by a 74 mph slider with a runner on second and nobody out in a one-run game, Bloomquist was hit later that inning with two men on in a tie game, and Gregorius was hit again in the eighth with a splitter.)

Questions about delayed payback were answered on Thursday, when the Cardinals faced a 12-2 deficit in the sixth, and opted not to drill any Arizona hitters.

It all adds up to a lot of thought devoted to a series of unintentional events, but that’s the way the game is played.

 

Serious thanks to Cards fan Chris C. for the heads-up and broadcast transcription.

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