When a pitcher steps to the plate and delivers a key base hit, or, in extreme cases, a home run in the World Series a la Joe Blanton last year, it ranks as one of the game's more unlikely pleasures and a major force for his ballclub.
After all, you've seen what some of these guys look like in batting practice. Let's just say they're not expected to succeed, and, for American League pitchers playing in the recently completed first round of Interleague Play, the prospects for any offensive output are even that much lower.
"We just want guys to maybe get a bunt down and not hurt themselves," Angels manager Mike Scioscia says. And he's not joking.
But there are some excellent hitting pitchers out there, and many experts in and around the game still believe there's a place for the hitting pitcher and a reason to cultivate that skill and not just laugh at it.
This issue came up recently and spawned our latest Around The Cage questions:
Who is the best-hitting pitcher in the game today or in history? Should pitchers be allowed or required to hit? And finally, can pitchers really be good hitters?
MLB.com's beat reporters hit the clubhouses, offices and broadcast booths of the Major Leagues and posed these questions to a host of luminaries around the game.
According to our results, the best-hitting pitchers were Micah Owings of Cincinnati and Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs.
"Micah Owings, and it's not even close," said Phillies catcher Chris Coste. "And I don't even know why he is. I haven't seen him that much. Just the highlights and stuff. He's got skill, but he's got enough power where he doesn't have to pull the ball to hit a homer."
But David Aardsma of the Seattle Mariners, who played for two clubs in the National League, said Zambrano's his man.
"I have seen that guy hit balls in the upper deck at Minute Maid," Aardsma said. "Absolutely, it would be him."
The other questions raised a number of intriguing answers sure to spawn water-cooler chatter and, yes, even more classic baseball arguments.
Here's a quick rundown from Around the Cage:
They Said It ...
WHO'S THE BEST-HITTING PITCHER?
Brian Snitker, third-base coach, Braves: "Right now you have to go with Micah Owings. He's a guy that you have to pitch to like a normal hitter. ... It's great to have pitchers that can hit. It's nice to have one of those guys up there that can help you score a run from second base without having to bunt somebody over."
Josh Anderson, OF, Tigers: "Carlos Zambrano's probably the best-hitting pitcher. I've seen him take some really good-looking swings. I mean, Zambrano can hit with power. He's a threat. Every time he gets to the plate, you have to pitch him like a middle-of-the-order guy. You really do. If you get a fastball anywhere he can handle it, he can hit it out. You can't just assume this is an out. That dude can hit in the middle of the order on some days for teams."
Gregg Zaun, C, Orioles: "Micah Owings, without a doubt [is the best]. I think Micah Owings could be a position player. When you've got a guy like [Reds manager] Dusty Baker using him to pinch-hit in the ninth inning, and he goes deep to tie a ballgame, it's pretty amazing. ... As far as pitchers hitting, I don't think it's as hard as everyone thinks. For one, you're going to see 90 percent fastballs and most pitchers are going to come right after you. They don't have as much pressure on them to get hits, either. They ought to be able to get plenty of batting practice, but I don't think that many pitchers spend as much time on their hitting. If the starting pitchers in the National League spent as much time hitting as they do playing golf, they'd probably be good hitters."
Charlie Manuel, manager, Phillies: "Micah Owings. We've got to work on getting him out. I've seen some real good hitting pitchers, but now he's the best. He has power to the opposite field and everything, too. That's what makes him good. ... Jack Harshman, Chicago White Sox [was the best of all time]. He hit 47 homers or something one year in the Minor Leagues. [Veteran left-hander] Jim Kaat was a good hitter."
Jimmy Gobble, LHP, White Sox: "Zambrano [is the best]. It would have to be. He's actually a threat. Granted, he did kind of hurt himself a little bit his last [at-bat], but he was, like, 2-for-5 with a bomb and a double with three RBIs. That's pretty good. Zambrano, he doesn't look like a hitter. He just keeps his bat through the zone so long."
Mickey Hatcher, hitting coach, Angels: "Carlos Zambrano. Shoot, he hit one out against us in Spring Training, so I would give it to him. And it went out fast. He's pretty good at the plate."
SHOULD PITCHERS BE ALLOWED OR REQUIRED TO HIT?
Tom Glavine, LHP, Braves: "I understand the [designated hitter], but I hate it. There's that whole notion that we're not athletes, and that's why -- because we only get to play half the game. The DH has prolonged the careers of some pretty great players. But I like the strategy of a pitcher hitting a whole lot better."
Mike Hegan, broadcaster, Indians: "I've seen enough pitchers hitting. For me, when you get in these Interleague series, [AL teams] are playing three games with one hand tied behind their backs because they can't use a hitter they planned their team around."
Shawn Hill, RHP, Padres: "I absolutely think pitchers should be able to hit. I've always felt that's the way the game should be played and, for the longest time, that's how it was played. It's how the game is meant to be played. There's so much more strategy involved. In the American League, you can allow six runs and still be pitching late in the game. In the National League, you do that and you are out of the game pretty quickly."
CAN PITCHERS BE GOOD HITTERS?
Gabe Kapler, OF, Rays: "Why [should pitchers] not [be able to hit]? I think it's probably based off natural coordination and bat-to-ball skills, considering they don't get to hit a whole lot. So [it's] the ability to put the fat part of the bat on the ball, rather than swing mechanics."
John Rooney, broadcaster, Cardinals: "Yes [pitchers can be good hitters], if they work at it. Absolutely. Braden Looper proved that he can help himself by bearing down on it, and he's become a much better hitter. And [Adam] Wainwright can certainly help his cause. If you don't strike out and put the ball in play, you can help yourself."
Roy Oswalt, RHP, Astros: "You're not all of a sudden going to grab a bat and go out there and hit once every five days and be a good hitter. You've got to get more at-bats than pitchers get if you're going to be a good hitter. We get 70 at-bats a year. You just don't get to work at it."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less