Infielders pitch in 8th, 9th innings to take utility roles to next level
By Troy Provost-Heron
ST. PETERSBURG -- It was not a scenario they were expecting, but with the Rays' 16-4 loss to Nationals well out of hand, infielders Jake Elmore and Nick Franklin took a different route off of the infield than they were used to.
Instead of heading into the dugout, the two trotted over to the bullpen in consecutive innings in order to warm up for their pending relief appearances.
Elmore, who pitched an inning for the Astros back in 2013, took the ball first to start the eighth inning, but his outing got off to a rough start when Wilson Ramos launched the second pitch he threw over the wall in center field. Elmore allowed two more singles in the inning, but was able to escape without surrendering any other runs.
"I was trying not to break down the blowout or anything, so I was just trying to keep it nice and easy and just throw strikes," Elmore said. "That's the only thing they want from position players, just go out and throw strikes, because if you start walking guys, the game takes longer. Unfortunately, I left one up to Ramos and he took care of it, but other than that, everything went according to plan."
As Elmore pitched, the people operating the scoreboard had a little fun, posting pitches like knuckleballs, splitters and screwballs.
"I turned around a couple of times and [the scoreboard] said screwball and I was like, 'Man, they really think my stuff's good,' but I was just throwing fastball-changeup mostly," Elmore said. "I threw one slider to [Ian] Desmond, and he actually gave me a check swing, but he got a hit out of it, so go figure."
After Elmore's outing, Franklin, who last pitched when he was a starting pitcher back in high school, entered in the ninth and allowed Anthony Rendon to lead off the inning with a double. Then, after retiring the next two batters, Ramos once again took a position player deep, this time to left field.
It was the fourth career multi-home run game for Ramos and a game that he thinks will help him have better success at the plate in the future.
"In my first three at-bats, I was trying to do too much," Ramos said. "In the last two at-bats against them I was very relaxed at the plate, and I just used my hands to hit the ball. After those two homers, that's the position I need to be with the regular pitching.
"I told the hitting coach that I need to see those videos tomorrow because those two at-bats will help me."
While the position players on the mound helped Ramos, they also helped the Rays, who were able to keep members of their bullpen from throwing in a game that had long been decided.
"Generally your utility players are the guys that pick you up, and they did pick us up quite a bit," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We are extremely appreciative, because they kept two guys from having to throw and kept us that much fresher going into the game tomorrow."
Elmore and Franklin became the fourth and fifth position players to ever pitch for the Rays, and are the first duo of position players to pitch for a team in a nine-inning game since July 20, 1990, when the Expos used Dave Martinez and Junior Noboa.
Troy Provost-Heron is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.