I’ve been going to Major League Baseball games for about four decades. And I just recently witnessed something for the first time - a pitcher hitting a home run.
Washington Nationals ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg launched a 398-foot home run in a 9-3 win over Baltimore on May 20, the first of his short career. Then Monday, teammate Jordan Zimmermann pounded a 387-foot homer in a 5-3 loss to Miami, also his career first.
Ironically, Zimmermann hit the home run off Carlos Zambrano, one of the game’s best-hitting pitchers. Zambrano has hit 23 home runs over 12 years, with two last season but none this year. Zambrano is only one home run behind Bob Gibson, the retired St. Louis Cardinal star regarded as one of the best-hitting pitchers of all time.
That’s how rare this pitcher power feat is. Besides Strasburg and Zimmermann, only three other pitchers in the major leagues have hit home runs so far this year. No other team has more than one pitcher with a homer - the three others are Drew Pomeranz of Colorado, Mike Leake of Cincinnati and Jeremy Hefner of the Mets.
Pomeranz had the first blast of the year from a pitcher on May 7 before getting hurt. Leake's homer was one of those caught by the same fan who snagged two in a row two days after Strasburg's home run. Hefner, a relief pitcher, hit one on Tuesday in only his second at-bat this season.
The show of power at the plate by Strasburg has not been a fluke this season. He also has three doubles, and his batting average of .389 is second to Arizona’s Wade Miley among pitchers with at least ten at-bats. Miley is hitting .444 with one double and no homers.
Zimmermann is hitting .222 - still good for a pitcher - with the home run his only extra-base hit.
Of course, Nationals pitchers are paid to pitch, not hit. Washington’s starters have a combined ERA of 2.94, which is the main factor in the team’s early success so far this season. The starters are the best not just in pitching, but in hitting, so far.
I don't think Nationals pitchers' hot streaks at the plate will continue all season. But the hitting in the ninth spot has been a bonus, and should inspire regular batters above them to do more at the plate.
Despite the boost by phenom Bryce Harper, the Nationals are only hitting .245 as a team, 10th best among the 16 squads in the National League. If that keeps up, don't be surprised to see Strasburg and Zimmermann batting seventh rather than ninth.