Opinion: Give Umpires the Power to Waive Three-Batter Minimum

photo: Didi Gregorius (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)

Sometimes we back a cause that is unpopular and need to try to convince others to see things our way.

Other times, the requirement is so clear that there may be little disagreement to the future path recommended.

I believe that is the case here.

The three-batter minimum rule for pitchers needs to go – or at least there needs to be a workaround.

As was learned during the Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals game Wednesday evening, the downstream, unintended impacts of such a change can be extremely undesirable – even dangerous.

The intent of the three-batter rule is to drive a quicker pace of play by eliminating incessant pitching changes driven by pitcher-batter data-driven matchup benefits. Fewer pitching changes lead to shorter games, goes the logic.

However, no one anticipated the situation in which Cardinals pitcher Genesis Cabrera found himself Wednesday night as he entered a tie game in the sixth inning. The young lefthander was unable to control his pitches, hitting Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper in the face with his initial offering, a 97-mph fastball, then plunking the next batter, Didi Gregorius, in the ribs.

Genesis Cabrera

Because only two batters had been faced, Cabrera had to remain in the game. The next batter, Andrew McCutchen, smacked a single that scored what became the deciding run.

But this wasn’t about winning or losing the game. It was about the safety of the players.

Likely incensed by umpire warnings issued, Phillies manager Joe Girardi was ejected for protecting his players and demanding Cabrera be removed from the game.

“[Cabrera] should be thrown out. I understand why they give the warnings, but if a guy hits a guy in the face and a guy in the ribs, with two pitches, he’s gotta go, right?” Girardi told ESPN. “If you’re really protecting players, he’s got to go. Just for the safety of the players.”

For his part, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt wanted to remove his pitcher, but could not.

“It’s a failure of the three-batter minimum. Completely, absolutely no doubt,” Shildt told the media following the game. “You’re talking about an aggressive young pitcher throwing to one of the superstars of this game. Clearly, he (Cabrera) felt terrible. Everybody knows it was completely unintentional.”

The umpiring crew was likely in a dilemma. It was clear that Cabrera’s actions were unintentional. Yet, what grounds would they have to eject a player just because he was struggling? All they could do is issue warnings to try to head off potential retaliation and escalation.

The solution seems clear – abandon the rule entirely.

However, that may not be realistic in the short term. As such, I have a partial answer that could be executed immediately. Give the umpiring crews the authority to waive the three-batter rule at their discretion in cases of player safety.

The only circumvention available currently would have been for Cabrera and the Cardinals to feign an injury.

Instead, this needs to be dealt with directly.

After the second hit-by-pitch on Wednesday night, the umpires could have huddled and assessed that Cabrera should be allowed to be removed from the game immediately, an action which Shildt would have taken. In fact, the Cards skipper said he would have pulled Cabrera after Harper went down – had that been allowed.

It wouldn’t have helped Harper and perhaps not Gregorius, either, but what if Cabrera had hit McCutchen, as well?

I know in today’s game, it is in vogue to strip umpires of power, turning everything possible over to technology. But in cases like this, the arbiters are in the right place to ensure players remain as safe as they can be.

If you are going to have contrived rules, then at least allow them to be circumvented when the situation warrants. This was one such case.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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