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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Pitch imperfect

A 10 percent chance of pain September 23, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.

"I want you to throw the next one at the mascot."

"Why? I'm finally throwing it where I want to throw it."

"Just throw it at the bull, huh? Trust me."

--conversation on the mound,

"Bull Durham"

We know it's football season. But it's still baseball season for the next few weeks. October is just around the corner. And with this weather, doesn't it feel like baseball playoffs?

Looking at the box scores and standings the other day, only a few teams are definitely out of the playoff mix. The usual suspects are out: the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles; the Arizona Diamondbacks are 49 games back. But with the wildcard system, most teams still have hope. St. Louis, Cincinnati, San Diego . . . . All are within reach with a dozen games to go.

Speaking of San Diego . . . .

There's a pitcher out there named Austin Adams. Not bad. Opponents are hitting a buck-fifty against him. He gets 13.0 K per nine. You can make a nice living and an interesting career (lots of travel and eating out) with numbers like that.

He's also hit two dozen batters so far this year.

For the record, that's a record.

The last time any pitcher has plunked that many people at the plate was 1922, according to deadspin. A big leaguer named Howard Ehmke hit 23 batters in 1922 for the Detroit Tigers.

The thing is, Mr. Ehmke was a full-time starting pitcher. He pitched nearly 300 innings that year. Whereas young Mr. Adams is a modern relief pitcher. He's hit 24 batsmen in under 50 innings. To put it in perspective, as a number of national baseball writers have done this week, Austin Adams is knocking down 10 percent of the men he's facing this season.

Ten percent.

There's a 10 percent chance that, when you dig in there at the plate, this man is going to bean you.

He's got two pitches: a fastball and a slider. He's hitting people with the slider, which any batter will tell you is better than getting a purple bruise on the thigh from a 95-mph heater. So nobody thinks Austin Adams is doing this on purpose. It's just what happens when a pitcher tries to spin the ball so fast that it breaks that way. (One player, it should be noted--Jon Berti of the Marlins--was knocked out of a game with a concussion after facing Mr. Adams.)

Twice so far this year, Austin Adams has hit batters when the bases were loaded, giving gift runs to the opposition.

Once this year, he hit three batsmen in one inning.

These aren't things done as some sort of enforcer. These are accidents. The San Diego Union-Tribune's sports pages say batters don't charge the mound and the benches don't clear. The hit batters just jog to first without much of even a glance to the mound. They know. The umps know, too. Any other pitcher who'd hit three men in one single inning would be shown to the showers and maybe fined.

But these accidents are still record-breaking accidents. Austin Adams has hit five batters in September alone, which is more than the entire staffs of most MLB teams.

We blame the victims.

Yes, yes, the breaking ball is a big deal these days, and young pitchers can't always control where they end up. There are more pitchers than ever in professional baseball, so the talent must be watered down. And with the emphasis on the long ball, pitchers have decided that the fast ball might not always be in their interests. So they tend to try fancy stuff that doesn't always come off the hand as planned.

But batters today are "brave" inasmuch as they dig in right over the plate. And can do so because they are padded up like knights in plate mail. They don't mind crowding the plate because they have enough padding on their elbow and hands to make an NFL defensive lineman jealous. Some of these players make their own livings by getting on base by "backing into" a pitch a little inside, and getting nicked on the elbow. (Think Craig Biggio with the Astros a few years ago, who perfected the art.)

We'd bet if that padding wasn't allowed at the plate, they would back up a bit, and wouldn't be so willing to take one for the team. That is, to actually try to hit the ball, as God intended.

Fast baseballs can be dangerous. We wouldn't endorse getting rid of batting helmets. And the rule to make first- and third-base coaches wear them was a long time coming.

But have batters take off the armor on their hands and elbows. They shouldn't look like Darth Vader at the plate. And let's put the ball in play. Just in time for October.

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