“It just got away from him,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said Wednesday after St. Louis Cardinals reliever Ramon Santos’s breaking ball got him in the back. That made Bregman the seventh Houston player hit in five games.
“He was hit in the foot,” Astros Manager Dusty Baker said Monday after second baseman José Altuve was plunked during the fifth inning of a game against the Detroit Tigers. “That ain’t nothing, you know what I mean? It wasn’t intentional.”
Maybe not, but if Astros batters continue to wear pitches at this rate during the regular season, they will blow past the over/under the William Hill sportsbook set for the number of times a Houston hitter will get plunked in 2020 (83.5), and they will do it by the all-star break. The New York Mets were hit by an MLB-high 95 pitches last season. The MLB average was 66.
It’s worth noting that five games is an extremely small sample size, and the Cincinnati Reds, with six hit-by-pitches in four games entering Thursday’s action, actually lead in hit-by-pitches-per-game this spring despite not participating, to MLB’s knowledge, in any illicit sign-stealing in recent years. Still, it’s a curious stat given all the recent focus on the Astros’ scandal.
While Baker didn’t see any intent behind Altuve’s hit-by-pitch Monday, he did appeal to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred this month to protect his players from vigilante justice.
“I’m depending on the league to try to put a stop to the seemingly premeditated retaliation that I’m hearing about,” Baker said. “In most instances in life, you get kind of reprimanded when you have premeditated anything. I’m just hoping that the league puts a stop to this before somebody gets hurt. … It’s not good for the game. It’s not good for kids to see it. I think both stop the comments and also stop something before it happens.”
Baker’s plea came in the wake of comments from several pitchers who suggested that Astros players, who were granted immunity during the investigation, should be prepared to pay for their transgressions in the batter’s box.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a comfortable few at-bats for a lot of those boys, and it shouldn’t be,” Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger said in January.
“I would lean towards yes,” Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling said when asked whether he would hit an Astros batter on purpose if given the chance. “In the right time and the right place … yeah, it would be on my mind.”
Manfred, for his part, said he hoped he “made it extremely clear that retaliation will not be tolerated.”
“It is dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation,” he said.
Astros hitters, even those who weren’t on the team in 2017 or 2018 when the sign-stealing is known to have taken place, have been showered with boos and jeers this spring. Fans at the Mets’ spring training stadium in Port St. Lucie, Fla., were delighted Wednesday when Houston slugger George Springer, the 2017 World Series MVP, fell to a knee after swinging and missing at a pitch from Justin Wilson.
Springer has yet to be hit by a pitch this spring; teammates Dustin Garneau, Osvaldo Duarte, Alex De Goti, Aledmys Díaz and Jake Meyers, in addition to Bregman and Altuve, haven’t been so lucky.