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It's kind of rare, but I've heard that it is possible to "relieve" a pitcher without removing him from the game--by making him a position player such as an outfielder.

My understanding is that the outfielder leaves, the pitcher replaces him, and a relief pitcher (or more) comes in to finish out the inning. Then the following inning, the original pitcher can return to the mound and resume pitching, while a new outfield replaces the former one.

But suppose your "outfielder" happens to be Nick Swisher, or even the Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Harrison, who can pitch at least part of an inning. So the pitcher and outfielder switch places, the outfielder finishes the inning, and the pitcher resumes the following inning with the outfielder going back to his original post.

Can this happen? (I was told that at least the outfielder needed to be replaced in this sequence.) And are clubs beginning to experiment with "swing men," position players who can pitch "strategically?" (The Pirates' Harrison got the last out in a game the team was losing by 10 points, thereby sparing a reliever.)

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2 Answers 2

First, players on the field may switch positions while the ball is dead during an inning. A pitcher could switch with an outfielder and then switch back for the next batter. The only difference between switching between a pitcher and a position player is that a pitcher must face a batter (unless he becomes injured during the at bat).

In your scenario, the outfielder could come in to pitch and the pitcher could go to the outfield. The next batter, or next inning they could switch back. There is no required substitution in this situation. It often happens late in games with limited bench players renaming. A left handed pitcher may be brought in to face one batter, and instead of burning an extra pitcher in the process, the current pitcher is placed in the outfield for a batter.

This scenario happened to the Atlanta Braves. You can see in the box score, Chris Resop (a pitcher) comes in to pitch, then moves to left field, and then back to pitcher.

As to your question about "swing men", the basic answer is no. There are many position players with good arms. There are many problems with this though. First of all it takes a lot of time and practice to even make it to the big leagues. This is spent on hitting or pitching, and not both. A position player may be able to throw as hard or harder than some pitchers, but it does not mean he can throw strikes, locate pitches, hold runners, etc. Some players that struggle hitting in the big leagues will go back to the minor leagues and convert to a pitcher. This again takes time to perfect. The other issue with "swing men" is that there is an organization of 100+ players, and to have a position player that is better than those pitchers is pretty rare.

The "swing players" you refer to would be called a two way player in baseball. In college baseball it is much more common. The players may also DH for them selves as they pitch (a quirky NCAA rule). The award for that specialty player is called the John Olerud Award.

In most sports, the lower (or younger) levels are dominated on mostly by talent. Once the highest levels are reached, most players are very talented and the players that work the hardest and train the hardest will be the most successful. If is hard to out work and out train two different groups of players at the same time.

One last comment, position players will come in to pitch in blow out games some times. This is usually just to save the innings and pitch count number for the relief pitchers in the bullpen over the course of the season. These guys are not seen as two way players, even if they pitched in college or high school. They are simply position players pitching in blow outs.

A position player getting the win in extra innings

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So putting Nick Swisher on the mound in this situation might have been a good idea? (The article is mine on Bleacher Report). bleacherreport.com/articles/… –  Tom Au Jun 9 at 16:28
    
@TomAu I would say it is not a good decision, especially in the American League. This would eliminate the DH. In the National League it would make more sense. In that situation however, the score is tied. You have to go to the bullpen or leave the starter in. There cannot be a reasonable expectation that Nick Swisher is going to come in a do any better at a position that he doesn't play over some one that does. –  diggers3 Jun 9 at 19:11
    
My idea was that if you want to deliberately walk the next batter, let the outfielder do it, because he can do as well as the starter (after taking up 8 warm up pitches to rest the pitcher). In an intentional walk, the batter doesn't even get an "at bat." –  Tom Au Jun 9 at 19:13
    
@TomAu Also, in your article you mention having Swisher throw the warm up pitches and then go 1-0 to the hitter. Putting the pitcher back in is not allowed until one at bat is completed by the pitcher. –  diggers3 Jun 9 at 19:15
    
So an intentional walk wouldn't count as such? Or did you mean plate appearance? –  Tom Au Jun 9 at 19:16

This can happen - Whitey Herzog used to do this every so often in the 1980s to stash a pitcher while some specialist pitched to a batter or so.

It isn't prevalent because:

  • It puts a bad fielder in the field and a worse hitter at bat for your original outfielder.
  • It burns up a relief pitcher once you switch back. And there just aren't that many bench players on a team to do this very often per game.
  • Most often when your pitcher needs replacing, he's done for the day.
  • If a regular position player can pitch, he becomes a full-time pitcher. Aside from novelty appearances, a non pitcher pitching gets blown out.
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