Guardians utility man David Fry becomes first position player to pitch four innings in a game since 1988

Guardians utility man David Fry becomes first position player to pitch four innings in a game since 1988

Monday night the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians opened a crucial three-game series at Progressive Field. The Guardians entered the day five games behind the Twins in the AL Central, and because this series is their final meeting of the regular season, it is essentially Cleveland’s last chance to make the AL Central race a race.

The Guardians debuted Lucas Giolito, their recent waiver claim, and it did not go well. The Twins tagged Giolito for nine runs and three homers in only three innings, including a Royce Lewis grand slam. It is Lewis’ third grand slam in the last nine days. The No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft has been on an incredible run since coming off the injured list Aug. 15.

Giolito’s rough outing, combined with reliever Enyel De Los Santos allowing four runs in the top of the sixth inning, put Cleveland in a real bind. They were down 13-1 with four innings to cover on the mound. So, manager Terry Francona went to utility man David Fry, and Francona stuck with Fry. Fry threw 64 pitches across the final four innings to spare the rest of the bullpen.

“I don’t care who you are, nobody wants to go out and get their brains beat out,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said about Fry’s pitching appearance after the game. “But he’s strong enough mentally to just not overdo it, and he won’t hurt himself. And now, hopefully, we have a chance to win tomorrow, and if we do, he sucked up a bunch of innings for us.”  

Of course, Fry did not pitch well Monday. The Twins roughed him up for seven runs on 10 hits in his four innings, including three homers. Fry, who threw a scoreless inning against the Chicago Cubs on June 30, now sports a career 12.60 ERA. For what it’s worth, Fry simply lobbed the ball over the plate. He wasn’t exactly putting effort into his pitches.

Cleveland went into Monday’s game with a shorthanded bullpen. They played an 11-inning game Saturday, and closer Emmanuel Clase and setup man Trevor Stephan had each pitched four times in the previous six days. Several other relievers had pitched extended outings or multiple times in the last few days. Giolito’s short start really put the Guardians in a pickle.

Excluding two-way players Shohei Ohtani and Brooks Kieschnick, and pitching converts like Rick Ankiel, Fry is the first true position player to pitch four innings in a game since current St. Louis Cardinals minor league infielder coordinator José Oquendo. Oquendo, a former infielder, threw four innings and 65 pitches for St. Louis on May 14, 1988.

Unlike Fry, Oquendo did not pitch in a blowout. He took the mound against the Atlanta Braves with the score tied 5-5 in the 16th inning, and he stayed on the mound until the game was decided in the 19th inning. Oquendo took the loss on Ken Griffey Sr.’s two-run double. No position player had thrown even three innings in a game since Oquendo.

We are in the golden age of position-player pitchers. Once upon a time, using a position player to pitch was the ultimate humiliation. Now it’s a strategy. There were a record 160 position-player pitcher appearances last season. This year, there have been 124, putting the league on pace for approximately 148 position-player pitcher appearances. Not a record, but it’s close.

The MLB Players Association has expressed concern about the injury risk for position players asked to pitch, and this season, MLB implemented rules to cut down on position player pitching appearances. Now position players can only be used on the mound when trailing by at least eight runs, leading by at least 10 runs, or anytime in extra innings.

It should be noted Fry was not the only position player to pitch in Monday’s game. The Twins put utility man Willi Castro on the mound in the ninth inning. He allowed three runs in his inning. It was Castro’s third pitching appearance this season. Minnesota eventually won Monday’s game 20-6 (box score). They now lead the AL Central by six games.

Fry, a 27-year-old rookie, is hitting .250/.308/.429 with four home runs in 91 plate appearances this season. He has played catcher, first base, third base, and left and right fields in addition to his two pitching appearances.

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