The New York Yankees have one player, Nick Swisher, who can play at least three positions; right field, first base, and pitcher.
Last night offered an opportunity for him to be used in the last role, after he was successful in his debut almost a year ago against the same Tampa Bay Rays, pitching one full inning of scoreless ball.
The Chicago Cubs have been pioneers in such conversion efforts, turning former catchers Carlos Marmol and Randy Wells into pitchers, turning former infielders Robinson Chirnos and Koyle Hill into catchers, and making other switches of position players. But there's no reason the Yankees can't do the same on an opportunistic basis.
The former and current Yankee, Javier Vazquez, started off with three strong innings, but then struggled in the fourth. Carlos Pena had homered to tie the score at 2-2, before a clearly flustered Vazquez recorded a second out, with B.J. Upton having stolen second in the meantime. Oh, for that third out.
At this point, Vazquez was in no shape to pitch. But it was too early to relieve him. That's why it might have been worthwhile to rest him by having him switch places with a position player, specifically Swisher. That way you don't use up a reliever and/or position player.
Instead, Vazquez was tapped for three more runs in the fourth inning, pitched a scoreless fifth, but then gave up three more in the sixth before being lifted. Even temporary relief in the fourth might have saved a few of those six runs, and kept the game closer.
Now I can hear the skeptics say, "You can't put in a new pitcher, Swisher, to get that third out without warming him up first. Nor would you want Vazquez to play right field."
Fair enough. But there was a safer way to possibly achieve a similar result.
An incoming reliever is allowed eight pitches to warm up. Let Swisher take those eight pitches, then four more, to intentionally walk the next batter (Navarro). This fills the hole at first, without Vazquez having to play right field.
Then give the ball back to Vazquez at the end of those 12 pitches. You're risking one extra run to save more later. A variation of the strategy would be for Swisher to throw nine pitches; eight warmup, and one ball, then back to Vazquez to start on Navarro with a 1-0 count.
Note well: This is a particularly good strategy if you want to walk the next batter anyway. (Actually, the batter most worth walking would have been Carl Crawford, who has hit over .400 lifetime against Vazquez.)
And lest one is tempted to trivialize those 12 pitches, that's usually enough to get three outs. Meaning that Vazquez would have had nearly the equivalent of a half inning of rest before going back to the mound.
Likewise, the other night when Swisher took eleven pitches to make one out, it was actually enough to make three. Meaning that the set-up man, Boston's Hideki Okajima, cracked up and allowed a run because he actually had to pitch one and two-thirds innings because of Swisher.
And one might feel that a recorded game isn't the time to experiment like this. Fair enough.
But the fact that we are just out of spring training leads one to believe that Swisher could, and perhaps should, have been given a chance to take his turn as a one inning reliever during that time. Then, any subsequent action with him would have been based on data, not hunches.
And if he is going to be used that way, maybe he should warm up ahead of critical innings in tight games. One may say, who would have thought the fourth. But perhaps ahead of the fifth or sixth.
And what if Swisher's first appearance was a fluke, and he'll never get out a batter again? We'll find out soon enough. As humorist Will Rogers recommended: "Buy a good stock and watch it go up. If it doesn't go up, don't buy more."
I wouldn't recommend this for every position player. The example of Jose Canseco suggests that you don't want to risk an elite player like Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter on pitching.
But Swisher is the opposite: not great at any position, but probably good enough at several, including reliever. (The Cubs' retreads were mediocre at their earlier positions.)
Some people may be put off by the apparent randomness of this idea. But a lot of good things have resulted from accidents, or propositional challenges.
Penicillin was discovered when some nasty molds wiped out the bacteria that scientist Alexander Fleming was cultivating for other experimental reasons. He figured, correctly, that molds strong enough to kill his bacteria would make good antibiotics.
And Teddy Roosevelt ran for Vice-President, then President, when New York Senator Thomas Platt (who wanted him out of New York politics) dared, "Is the hero of San Juan Hill (during the Spanish-American war) a coward?"
Putting position players on the mound at strategic times may be an idea whose time has come. What about it, Nick?