PHOENIX - There have been 2,376 games in Nationals history, spread out among 15 seasons since baseball returned to Washington. And in only four of those games has the club’s manager at the time resorted to handing the ball to a position player and asking him to pitch.
It’s an exceptionally rare occurrence for this team, and yet there’s a bizarre common factor in almost every case: the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Yes, three of the four games that have seen a Nationals position player pitch have come against the Diamondbacks. Clint Robinson pitched a scoreless inning during a 14-6 loss on May 12, 2015 at Chase Field. Three months later, Tyler Moore retired two of the three batters he faced in an 11-4 loss to Arizona at Nationals Park. Mark Reynolds (originally drafted by the Diamondbacks) faced one Marlins batter during a 10-2 loss on July 8, 2018, and retired him.
And now Saturday night’s game at Chase Field can be added to the list, with not one but two Nationals position players pitching in the bottom of the eighth inning of what wound up an 18-7 thrashing at the hands of the Diamondbacks.
Davey Martinez prefers not to have to do this, but with his team trailing 11-4 at the time and every member of his bullpen besides Wander Suero having appeared at some point in the first two games of this series, the second-year manager felt he had no choice but to do something unconventional.
“The bullpen has pitched a lot,” he said. “I just didn’t want to run anybody else out there, and come back tomorrow fresh.”
And so Martinez gave the ball for the bottom of the eighth to Gerardo Parra. The veteran outfielder had been waiting for this moment since he was drafted (by the Diamondbacks, of course) as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela in 2004. Some club officials had always thought he’d have made a good pitcher, and after watching him uncork 92 mph fastballs and 81 mph sliders on Saturday it’s not hard to see why.
The only trouble? Parra couldn’t find the plate. At all. He faced five batters. He walked four of them. The other delivered a clean base hit.
“I tried. I tried,” he said afterward. “I’m happy I got back to the mound. It didn’t go like I wanted, but I’m still happy. First time in the big leagues. So this is big for me.”
Martinez hoped Parra could at least get through the entire bottom of the eighth. But after watching him throw 25 pitches (only eight of which were strikes), the manager walked back to the mound and gathered his entire infield. At which he point he took the ball from Parra and gave it to second baseman Brian Dozier, who also was about to live out a lifelong fantasy.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Martinez said. “And I think (Parra) realized that today.”
“We made contact in the dugout and he said: ‘Can you throw?’” Dozier said, referring to a conversation with Martinez the previous inning. “And I said: ‘Absolutely!’”
The good news: Dozier was able to get the ball over the plate. He threw nine of his 16 pitches for strikes. And he was able to record the three outs necessary to end the inning.
The bad news: He also gave up a two-run double and a three-run homer, the latter to his former Twins teammate and close friend Eduardo Escobar.
“Freaking Escobar,” Dozier lamented. “If I had to give up one, it would be to Esky. Esky is like my brother. The funny part is: I’m going to his house right now. He’s cooking me dinner, a Latino spread. So I’m sure he’s not going to let it down the whole night.”
Dozier’s attempt to pitch threw another wrench into the Nationals infield: Parra, who started the game at first base, was now going to have to play another infield position, no matter the fact he’s left-handed.
So it was that Gerardo Parra, 32-year-old left-handed outfielder, took over at third base, with Anthony Rendon shifting to second base.
Except Parra didn’t stay at third base. He and Rendon wound up swapping spots based on which side of the plate the Diamondbacks’ batter hit from. If it was a right-handed batter, Rendon was at third with Parra at second. If it was a left-handed batter, Rendon was at second with Parra at third.
“That’s a big one, too,” Parra said. “When Davey said: ‘You play third,’ I said: ‘Oh my god.’ I’m happy. It’s the big leagues. I’m going to say to my kids: ‘You know what? I played third base!’ Maybe they can’t believe that, because I think it’s the first time you saw a lefty play third base. So I’m happy for that, too.”
Parra thus became only the sixth player in history to pitch and play first, second and third bases in one major league game. The other five all played all nine positions in their games, most recently the Tigers’ Andrew Romine on Sept. 30, 2017.
“Obviously the biggest thing is the loss and stuff,” Dozier said. “But it gets to a certain point when you’re completely out of it, you can find humor in a lot of different things in this game. And me pitching was definitely one of them. I’ve been telling (Max) Scherzer that I’m a better pitcher than he is a hitter. So he came in and definitely told me that that’s not the case.”