Adam Wainwright Batting Injury Brings DH-to-NL Debate to New Level

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2015

USA Today

If you want to crank up the heat on any baseball discussion, just utter the words "designated hitter" and "National League" in conjunction.

Not even casual fans are neutral on that subject; it's a line-in-the-sand deal. Bringing the DH to the NL is either a logical inevitability or an affront to the game, depending on who you ask. This is a war, and it's showing no signs of abating.

On Saturday, Adam Wainwright gave some serious ammunition to the pro-DH faction.

In case you missed the news: While breaking out of the batter's box after popping up in the fifth inning of a game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Wainwright stumbled, winced and had to be helped off the field.

The outlook is not good for the St. Louis Cardinals ace, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal:

Cards general manager John Mozeliak fueled the pessimism, per KMOX St. Louis News:

So there you have it—one of the best pitchers in baseball shelved for the foreseeable future. And to quite literally add insult to injury, he hurt himself doing something the Cardinals don't need him to do.

Or, more accurately, they wouldn't need him to do it if the senior circuit got hip to the pitchers-not-hitting notion.

On a less severe but still troubling note, the Washington Nationals' Max Scherzer may miss a start after jamming his right thumb and wrist while hitting on Thursday against the Cardinals, ESPN.com reports. 

Scherzer, of course, spent the last five seasons as an offensive spectator with the Detroit Tigers of the American League.

Count the 2013 Cy Young Award winner among those who'd like to see the DH become universal.

"If you look at it from the macro side, who'd people rather see hit: Big Papi or me?" Scherzer said on Sunday, per ESPN.com. "Who would people rather see, a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper?"

Nationals ace Max Scherzer likes to hit, but still supports making the DH universal.
Nationals ace Max Scherzer likes to hit, but still supports making the DH universal.Nick Wass/Associated Press/Associated Press

There are pitchers who like to hit (Scherzer says he's one of them) and pitchers who can hit. San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner clubbed four home runs, including two grand slams, in 66 at-bats last year.

Bumgarner had a great rejoinder for Scherzer, per Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News, "Oh, well, my wet newspaper is 34.5 inches, 33.5 ounces, and I'm waiting on some new ones right now."

On the whole, however, a pitcher stepping to the plate is a good signal for fans to make a fridge run—assuming the at-bat lasts long enough to get there and back.

You can talk strategy—sacrifice bunts, double switches, bullpen machinations—but most of the arguments against the DH are about nostalgia. That has its place, particularly in a game that's steeped in history and bound by tradition.

MLB, though, has implemented several significant shifts in recent years: Reshuffled divisions, the expanded postseason format, instant replay. They've all arrived with some grumbling and bumps in the road, but nothing cataclysmic has gone down.

And if the difference between not having the DH and having it is the difference between elite studs like Wainwright and Scherzer staying on the mound and not staying on the moundwell, that's tough to argue against.

Plus, with interleague play more ubiquitous than ever, the differences between the leagues are diminishing, and the need for a uniform set of rules is growing.

In January, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he's "never had one moment of dissonance" about the current arrangement, per MLB Network Radio:

But in March, Major League Baseball Players Association head Tony Clark said the idea of adding the DH to the NL had "come up independent of us bringing it up," per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Considering how the game has progressed, I can see how it would move more to the forefront than it has in the past," Clark said, per Goold.

If the change does come, it'll be too late to spare Wainwright's Achilles and probably too late to save the next pitcher who'll inevitably get hurt sprinting down the line or taking an awkward hack.

For today, purists can rest easy. As for tomorrow? Well, expect an already hot discussion to boil over.

All statistics current as of April 26 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

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