After the Hickory Crawdads were involved in so many lengthy extra-inning games last year, the Texas Rangers decided to limit the use of their pitchers in such marathon games. The result of that will be the use of position players on the mound once the game gets to a certain point. Enter Travis Bolin during Thursday night’s 12-inning win over the Kannapolis Intimidators.
Bolin got an inkling a few days prior to Thursday’s game that he could be used as a pitcher at some point during the season, if the situation called for it. Then, it happened and no one was more surprised that Bolin.
“I came out here (to the bullpen) and threw about 20 pitches,” said Bolin. “Then they called me in. I thought they were joking at first. The last out came and the pitching coach (Jose Jaimes) called me and said, ‘Hey, you’re going in.’ And I was like, ‘Are you guys serious? You guys are actually letting me go out and throw?’ Yeah, I went out there and had a good time.”
A good time, indeed. Bolin pitched, despite the tie game and his scoreless inning was enough to get the win as Hickory scored a run for the 2-1 walk-off victory.
“That is pretty cool,” said Bolin of the decision. “I was just happy about my first strikeout, the first batter. I thought it was pretty cool.”
Bolin said he hadn’t pitched since high school and threw just a few innings then. His brother was a pitcher, and so in watching him, Bolin had some sense of pitching out of the windup, which was fairly seamless.
“I’m pretty accurate when I’m trying to hit my spots,” said Bolin. “I did a pretty good job of it last night.”
The strikeout came as the inning’s leadoff hitter Zach Remillard swung through a 2-2 fastball. Grant Massey sent then a 2-0 fastball (heck, they were all fastballs) for a 6-3 grounder.
The one wrinkle came on a walk issued to Tyler Sullivan, an at-bat Bolin said he thought the umpire squeezed him on a pitch.
Bolin said, “Man, I painted one right on the corner and he didn’t give it to me. But that’s how it goes with pitching.”
The inning ended with a groundout to second by Joel Booker. Bolin threw all fastballs – topping out at 85, though he said he could gas up to 92, but was told to keep it eased back so as to not hurt his arm – but he was prepared to use a slider if needed.
“Actually, I was going to go to throwing a slider, or a real cut-fastball, but we ended up getting the guy out on the next pitch anyway, so we didn’t have to go to that.”
The response from teammates was described by Bolin as ecstatic and the opportunity may indeed arise again to pitch.
“I asked Spike today, I said ‘Hey, now that that actually happened, is that going to happen again?’ He said, ‘Of course, that was a test. Good job.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’m ready to go.’”
Crawdads position players pitching:
It rarely happened in the early years of the club’s history, but as major league teams become more cautious about over using pitchers and keeping them in a routine, position players throwing in games is becoming more common.
Over the first 15 seasons, just five position players pitched for Hickory. None did until 1999 and then from 2007 until 2013, but since 2014 it’s happened ten times, five of those in 2016.
Below is an overview of those position players who have climbed the hill.
1999: 1B Carlos Rivera – and a future big leaguer – mopped up in a game during which he gave up a run on two hits in an inning.
2000: 1B/ OF Jason Landreth allowed three hits and walk, all of which scored during his lone inning.
2000: C Jose Hernandez walked the only batter he faced and took the loss.
May 15, 2005: 2B Dan Schwartzbauer. The Crawdads were completing a suspended game from the night before against Lake County (OH), which eventually went to extra innings. After the Captains scored three in the 11th – and with another full nine-inning game to go – Crawdads manager Jeff Branson brought in Schwartzbauer, who struck out the only batter he faced.
June 28, 2007: 2B Jose J. De Los Santos. In the night cap of a doubleheader against Kannapolis, the Crawdads had blown a 5-2 lead and ran out of available arms to pitch in extra innings. De Los Santos was brought in and gave up six runs to take the loss in an 11-5 defeat.
May 23, 2013: LF Nick Vickerson. In one of the wildest games in Crawdads history – both managers were ejected and a walk-off homer was reversed – the Kannapolis Intimidators scored four runs in the top of the 12th to take the lead. Vickerson got Justin Jirschele – the current Intimidators manager – to hit into a fielder’s choice. The Crawdads went on to score five in the bottom of the inning for a 7-6 win.
June 25, 2014: IF Janluis Castro. In mop-up duty vs. Kannapolis, Castro retired all four batters he faced, fanning two.
July 8, 2014: IF Janluis Castro. Became the first Crawdads position player to pitch twice as he entered a game during a blowout loss to the Lexington Legends. Gave up two hits, but struck out two during a scoreless ninth inning.
July 9, 2014: 2B Janluis Casto. The Legends scored three in the top of the 14th and rather than waste a pitcher, Castro moved over from second and strike out the only batter he faced. For the season, Castro allowed two hits and struck out five of the ten hitters he faced.
August 8, 2015: C Jonathan Meyer. Became the first position player to pitch on the road since 2000. Gave up a walk-off, three-run homer at Lakewood in the 18th inning for the loss.
May 15, 2016: 1B Dylan Moore. Back-to-back errors on what should’ve been inning-ending double play balls played a big role in seven unearned runs during a 9-2 loss to the Rome Braves in 19 innings.
June 6, 2016: OF Josh Altman. The utilityman worked around two hits in the 13th inning during a game with Greensboro. However, two errors were costly in the 14th as Hickory dropped a 6-5 loss to the Grasshoppers.
July 15, 2016. C Chuck Moorman. The starting catcher entered the game during a blowout loss to West Virginia and retired both batters he faced with one strikeout.
July 24, 2016. OF Connor McKay. A 15-3 blowout at Lakewood precipitated the use of McKay in the ninth, who retired all three batters he faced.
July 30, 2016. OF Connor McKay. After the Crawdads gave up four runs in the top of the 10th against Hagerstown, McKay was brought in and he retired the lone batter he faced.