Saturday, September 27, 2008
Cardinals' La Russa to bat pitcher eighth in 2009
ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa intends to bat his pitcher eighth again next season, an unorthodox strategy that the St. Louis Cardinals' manager enthusiastically believes in.
La Russa's rationale: It gives him a second leadoff hitter in the ninth spot, and makes Albert Pujols, who bats third, a de facto cleanup hitter every time he hits after the first inning.
He'll take that scenario over the numerous times when the pitcher comes to the plate with two outs and runners in scoring position. On Friday night, Braden Looper came up with two on and one out in the fourth inning and struck out, and ninth-place hitter Jason LaRue grounded out to end the threat.
"When it happens later in the game you can pinch-hit for them," La Russa said Saturday. "If he makes an out, Albert's the cleanup hitter.
"We leave the bases loaded with position players, too."
La Russa is the only manager to regularly fill out this type of lineup card. Former Brewers manager Ned Yost batted his pitcher ninth when catcher Jason Kendall, prone to double-play balls, was in the lineup, and Pirates manager John Russell has tinkered with it.
La Russa batted the pitcher eighth in 1998 in an effort to give Mark McGwire better pitches to hit during his then-record 70-homer season. The manager did it the final 56 games of last season in an effort to boost a slumbering offense, with the Cardinals going 28-28, and has used it every game this year.
He keeps his own chart, detailing the pluses and minuses, and concludes: "I don't think it's even close."
Cesar Izturis has batted ninth 80 times, by far the most on the team, and has fulfilled La Russa's desire for a second leadoff man with 24 stolen bases entering Saturday night's game against the Reds while batting .262 with 22 RBIs.
Brendan Ryan, batting .238 with nine RBIs, has hit ninth 32 times after getting that slot half of the games last season. Skip Schumaker has batted leadoff 108 times and ninth, the second leadoff spot, eight times.
Adam Wainwright and Looper had decent years at the plate for pitchers. Wainwright batted .267 with a home run and six RBIs, and Looper hit .254 with four extra-base hits and four RBIs. La Russa has used that pair eight times as pinch hitters, hamstrung by carrying 13 pitchers and four extra men, with Looper getting the lone hit and Wainwright driving in one run.
La Russa doesn't mind that Joel Pineiro hit .098 with 35 strikeouts in 51 at-bats or that Kyle Lohse was at .111 with five RBIs heading into his final start on Sunday, because they're pitchers. His whole point is setting things up for Pujols.