Shortly after the Major League Baseball season was postponed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, it was generally assumed that the National League would adopt the designated hitter in a shortened 2020 season, with the potential for realigned divisions composed of teams from both leagues.
If that happens, Sean Doolittle’s strikeout of the Houston Astros’ Gerrit Cole in the seventh inning of Game 5 of last year’s World Series could be the final at-bat by a pitcher in major league history. While the Washington Nationals stand to benefit from the DH, and Howie Kendrick hit the biggest home run in franchise history in that role, we’ll no longer have the pleasure of seeing Doolittle, who is 0 for 4 in his career, make the occasional appearance in the batter’s box — an experience his wife, Eireann Dolan, calls “hugely embarrassing” — or the thrill of seeing a pitcher go deep.
Before baseball officially eliminates the need for the double switch, here’s a look back at all 18 home runs hit by a Nationals pitcher.
April 29, 2005: Livan Hernandez off Jae Weong Seo
Hernandez hit 10 home runs, including four with the Nationals, during his 17-year career. The right-hander’s first homer with Washington was a fifth-inning solo shot to left field in a 5-1 win over the Mets at RFK Stadium.
“The ball carries here to the corners,” Hernandez said. “But you hit it to center field, forget it.”
Hernandez was even more impressive on the mound that night, scattering one run and nine hits over eight innings.
Aug. 10, 2005: Hernandez off Wandy Rodriguez
Hernandez hit .244 in 2005, 25 points better than Cristian Guzman, and finished with half as many home runs as the Nationals’ everyday shortstop in 374 fewer at-bats. Hernandez’s second homer of the season was a line shot to left at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Washington lost, 7-6, despite Hernandez’s 3-for-3 night.
April 19, 2006: Hernandez off Gavin Floyd
Hernandez allowed his seventh, eighth and ninth home runs of the season in just his fourth start, raising his ERA to 7.11. He also hit a home run of his own and added two doubles in a 7-6 loss in 10 innings to the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Sept. 4, 2006: Ramon Ortiz off Jorge Sosa
“Oh, my God,” Ortiz said he thought to himself after lining the first pitch he saw in the eighth inning into the left field bullpen at RFK. “It’s a home run?”
It was, and his teammates would later joke it cost him a most improbable no-hitter.
Ortiz, who hadn’t gone more than six innings or allowed fewer than three runs in his four previous starts, received a loud ovation from the Labor Day crowd at RFK when he came to the plate in the eighth, having not allowed a hit to the St. Louis Cardinals.
He gave up a leadoff single to Aaron Miles in the ninth before Chris Duncan lined into a double play. After allowing a solo home run to Albert Pujols, Ortiz was lifted for Chad Cordero, who recorded the final out in Washington’s 4-1 win.
“We got everything today,” a smiling Ortiz said afterward.
Sept. 14, 2010: Hernandez off Jair Jurrjens
Hernandez added to his team lead in career home runs during his second stint with Washington. His solo shot to left field on a hanging slider at Atlanta’s Turner Field was the first by a Nationals pitcher in 654 games. It also provided all the run support Hernandez needed; he pitched eight scoreless innings in Washington’s 6-0 win.
July 22, 2011: John Lannan off Hiroki Kuroda
Lannan entered the game at Dodger Stadium a career .092 hitter, with 18 hits in 195 at-bats. By the end of his 2-for-3 night, he was hitting above .100, and the ball he hit for his first major league home run was sitting on the top shelf of his locker.
“It’s kind of a blur right now,” Lannan said. “I’m still pretty shocked.”
The Nationals’ dugout exploded in shock after Lannan roped a breaking ball over the right field wall. He kept a stoic expression as he rounded the bases.
“I knew if I laughed, it would have just looked bad,” he said afterward.
“[Pitching coach Steve] McCatty’s over there, you know, fainting,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Teammates initially gave Lannan the silent treatment as he walked into the dugout before greeting him with high-fives.
“That’s all we talked about for about five straight innings down [in the bullpen],” reliever Sean Burnett said. “We were still in shock. We were going to call down from the bullpen and ask for a curtain call.”
Sept. 3, 2011: Tommy Milone off Dillon Gee
Milone allowed four runs in 4⅓ innings in his major league debut, but he also became just the eighth pitcher to homer on the first pitch he saw.
“When I was running down the first base line, it was almost like I was dreaming,” Milone said of his three-run shot, which landed in the home bullpen at Nationals Park. “It was almost like I didn’t feel it. It was just surreal. I was hoping for a fastball first pitch. I got it.”
The Nationals blew a 5-0 lead but came back to beat the Mets, 8-7, on Ryan Zimmerman’s two-run, walk-off single.
May 20, 2012: Stephen Strasburg off Wei-Yin Chen
Strasburg hardly cracked a smile as he rounded the bases after his first major league home run — or while acknowledging the cheering Nationals Park crowd, at his teammates’ urging, from the top step of the dugout.
“I’m not big for going out there and showboating and everything,” he said after Washington’s 9-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles. “It was great, but I know my place. I’m not a real hitter out there, so I’m not going to act like I do it all the time. Just run around the bases. But it was definitely a good feeling.”
Strasburg credited Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein with his growing comfort at the plate.
“I feel a lot stronger,” Strasburg said. “It doesn’t feel like I have a log in my hands.”
May 28, 2012: Jordan Zimmermann off Carlos Zambrano
Zimmermann wasn’t sure he got all of his first home run, which came off a pitcher who hit 23 home runs of his own during his career. Zimmermann paused as he rounded second base at Marlins Park, perhaps distracted by the old home run sculpture in center field.
“It’s hard to see,” Zimmermann said after the Nationals’ 5-3 loss. “There’s so many bright objects out there.”
Aug. 8, 2012: Gio Gonzalez off Armando Galarraga
Gonzalez pitched the first nine-inning complete game of his career and hit his first big league home run in Washington’s 4-3 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
“Today, it was like a Little League game for Gio,” Tyler Clippard said. “Hits the two-run homer, we win by one, and he throws a complete game. That’s like Williamsport Little League stuff. It’s awesome. What a day for him.”
Gonzalez’s two-run shot in the second inning gave the Nationals the lead for good. His teammates lined up at the dugout steps to greet him, and someone tossed a bucket of bubble gum over his head.
“You’re going to run into one of those,” Gonzalez said.
April 3, 2013: Gonzalez off Kevin Slowey
Gonzalez proved he could handle a curveball at the plate, too, launching a 76-mph offering into the left field seats at Nationals Park for his second career homer.
“Lucky swing,” Gonzalez said after working six innings in Washington’s 3-0 win over the Marlins. “I think I closed my eyes.”
It was a chilly night, making Gonzalez’s home run all the more impressive.
“[Adam] LaRoche crushed a couple balls that didn’t go anywhere,” reliever Ryan Mattheus said. “So you know Gio got it pretty good.”
April 2, 2014: Gonzalez off Bartolo Colon
The greatest home run trot by a pitcher in Nationals history was more of a sprint. Gonzalez’s fifth-inning shot at the Mets’ Citi Field cleared the left field fence but deflected off a railing and bounced back onto the outfield grass. A confused Gonzalez raced toward second base and then third as Mets outfielder Andrew Brown jogged to retrieve the ball. Gonzalez was thinking inside-the-park home run.
“The way I was running, I was like ‘I got a chance,’ ” Gonzalez said after Washington’s 5-1 win. “I was about to slide home.”
Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud ended the hilarity when he signaled for Gonzalez to slow down.
“That was epic,” Ian Desmond said. “That’s going to go down in the memory bank for a long, long time.”
Sept. 12, 2016: Mat Latos off Rafael Montero
Remember Latos? The journeyman pitcher signed a minor league deal with the Nationals in June 2016 after being released by the Chicago White Sox and was promoted to the majors in September. After making two appearances out of the bullpen, he earned a start against the Mets.
Hamstring tightness cut Latos’s outing short after 4⅓ innings, but he homered in his first at-bat of the Nationals’ eventual 8-1 win.
“I just told [Daniel] Murphy, [Latos is] a good hitter; he might hit one out of here,” said Manager Dusty Baker, who managed Latos in Cincinnati. “And when he does, he’s going to do a lot of talking. … After he hit it, Murph said, ‘Let him talk.’ ”
May 5, 2017: Strasburg off Nick Pivetta
Strasburg’s second career homer spotted him to a 2-0 lead en route to a 4-2 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
“Lucky,” Strasburg said of his 404-foot blast, which came on a pitch down and in. “No business swinging at that pitch, number one. I don’t really know how I connected on it. I was just fortunate I was able to get to it, I guess.”
Aug. 1, 2017: Max Scherzer off Chris O’Grady
Scherzer’s assignment when he stepped to the plate in the second inning at Marlins Park was to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance Brian Goodwin to second base. After falling behind 0-2, Scherzer was told to swing away, and the result was the first home run of his career. After initially ignoring him when he returned to the dugout, teammates swarmed to congratulate Scherzer on his three-run blast, which gave Washington a 4-0 lead.
“They’re not going to hear the end of it,” Scherzer said. “I’ll probably have shirts made and everything.”
Scherzer took the mound for the bottom of the second inning with a 6-0 lead but removed himself from the game with neck tightness. The Nationals went on to lose, 7-6.
“The thing with having a tight neck, not being able to look left, it actually helped out my baseball swing,” Scherzer said later. “I couldn’t pull my head out. I had to just stay locked in, and that actually gave me a better swing. So sure enough, that’s the reason I hit a home run.”
Aug. 30, 2017: Strasburg off Adam Conley
Strasburg allowed six hits and struck out eight, and he provided all the offense he would need in a shutout of the Marlins with a home run to right-center field at Nationals Park.
“Oppo? Wow,” catcher Jose Lobaton said after the game. “That was impressive. That was something special. As soon as I saw that, I was like, ‘This is going to be pretty good today.’ ”
April 3, 2018: A.J. Cole off Julio Teheran
Cole allowed 10 runs in 3⅔ innings at SunTrust Park, but he got one back with a second-inning solo shot to deep left.
July 18, 2019: Strasburg off Touki Toussaint
Strasburg matched Hernandez’s team record for home runs by a pitcher with four and celebrated with a dugout dance during the Nationals’ 13-4 win at SunTrust Park.
“When I got to the top step,” Strasburg said of the realization he would have to dance after his three-run homer, which was part of his 3-for-3, five-RBI night. “And to be honest, it was pretty nerve-racking. I didn’t really have anything. I’m not a big dancer to begin with.”
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