This was bound to happen after Major League Baseball instituted its no-pitch intentional walks rule before the 2017 season. It’s only fitting that a time-tested veteran like Oliver Perez be the one to secure this odd place in baseball history.
On Friday night, the Cleveland Indians reliever became the first pitcher in MLB history to ever record a zero-pitch, one-walk outing during a very brief appearance against the Oakland Athletics.
Perez, who was making the 565th appearance of his 16-year MLB career, was summoned by Indians manager Terry Francona to relieve Trevor Bauer with two outs and two runners on base in the seventh inning. Francona’s thinking was that his veteran left-hander would have an advantage over Oakland rookie Dustin Fowler, who’s a left-handed batter.
As a counter to Francona’s move, Athletics manager Bob Melvin used right-handed hitter Mark Canha as a pinch hitter. In Francona’s estimation, that tipped the scales back in Oakland’s favor. He signaled for the automatic intentional walk to Canha to load the bases, knowing that an advantageous matchup awaited with the left-handed hitting Matt Joyce on deck.
When Melvin decided to replace Joyce with pinch-hitter Chad Pinder, another right-handed hitter. Francona decided he needed a right-handed pitcher in the game. In came Zach McAllister, out went Perez without ever officially throwing a pitch to a batter.
How is this even possible?
The rules, they are a-changin’.
A new pitcher is still required to face at least one batter during an appearance (barring injury). However, with the no-pitch intentional walk rule in place, it opens up the possibility of “facing” a batter without throwing a pitch. Once the intentional walk was called for, an official plate appearance was logged, making it possible to replace Perez.
In this instance, all of the maneuvering paid off for Francona. McAllister entered and struck out Pinder to leave the bases loaded. That was especially good news for Perez because he didn’t have an earned run added to his total without throwing a pitch.
Despite not scoring here, Oakland would go to win the game 3-1.
In this the least eventful pitching appearance ever?
It’s tough to argue against that.
Andrew Mearns of MLB.com’s Cut 4 points out that there have been 12 zero-pitch outings in the last decade alone, but all of those included action in the form of a baserunner being picked off base. In those instances, the pitcher actually did something and recorded an out in the process.
Perez literally did nothing other than warm up. Mearns points to Mike Stanton’s zero-pitch outing for the Washington Nationals in 2005 as the closest scenario. It’s the only other outing since 1908 where are a pitcher didn’t throw a pitch or record an out. That’s because Stanton balked in the winning run before throwing a pitch.
Perez’s outing was certainly among the strangest relief appearances we’ve seen to this point in MLB history. But it’s one likely to increase in frequency based on the rules in place.
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