On Thursday, Ron Roenicke explained why his team did not seek to escalate the budding feud with Arizona that exploded two days earlier, after Arizona’s Evan Marshall drilled Ryan Braun to load the bases, followed by Jonathan Lucroy’s grand slam.
“How many times we get hit during a season and how many times we hit people, it should explain how we feel about it,” the Milwaukee manager said in an MLB.com report. “We do the right things. We try to play the right way, and I’m not in control of what happens on the other side.”
For those scoring at home, how many times they’re hit is “a lot,” and how many times they hit people is, “not so much.” (The actual numbers since Roenicke took over are 248 and 125, respectively.)
“We try to pitch the way we should pitch,” he said. “We don’t throw at people. There’s a time you have to pitch inside to get people out. Good hitters you have to pitch inside. So that’s what happens.”
This is a terrific ideal, with obvious upside: Because Milwaukee pitchers don’t risk extra baserunners put on in the name of vendettas, Milwaukee pitchers are almost never hurt by extra baserunners put on in the name of vendettas. The downside, however, is a little more nuanced, and has to do with people far darker than Roenicke.
Because as clean as the Milwaukee manager wants to live, he has to deal with people in opposing clubhouses who harbor no such virtuosity. These are pitchers and managers who are all too willing to throw inside with impunity, not just to establish the inner portion of the plate but to intimidate opponents. One way to control this type of reckless behavior is to respond in kind. They’re known as message pitches for a reason, and the ones that come in response to hit batsmen are the clearest sort. We’re not talking about drilling somebody who flipped a bat, but holding accountable opponents who intentionally put your batters into harm’s way. It’s more than just making a statement—it is a physical reminder to the pitcher who started it that such behavior will not be tolerated.
There will also be questions raised should Brewers position players feel that said accountability is not a part of their team’s game plan. It’s easy to imagine a player, or a faction of players, growing upset over passivity from their staff after a critical mass of their teammates has been drilled, unanswered. (It’s easy to imagine because it has been a regular occurrence over the years—players calling out their own pitchers, wondering when somebody is going to step up and do something about all the guys being abused.)
None of which is to say that this is the right way to go. (Or that Roenicke doesn’t play by any other of the unwritten rules. He does.) Baseball is constantly changing, and so is the Code. If Roenicke is at the vanguard of a movement in which the only batters hit are hit inadvertently, more power to him. The game will be better for it.
Ideals and reality don’t always mesh however, and watching this play out over time will prove useful to those trying to figure out which way the wind is actually blowing.