In Wednesday night's game between the Blue Jays and the Athletics, Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia took a foul tip off the wrong spot of his hand. Arencibia suffered a fracture that'll keep him out of action for a month and a half, and the next backstop on the Blue Jay depth chart is one Jeff Mathis. But Wednesday night, Jeff Mathis couldn't occupy himself with thoughts of being the starting catcher; Wednesday night, Jeff Mathis had to worry about pitching.
The Blue Jays found themselves losing 1-0, then 9-0, then 10-0, and eventually it was 14-0 after eight innings. All of the runs that Oakland didn't score in April, they scored on Wednesday, as they continued their screeching sprint toward the top of the standings. For the ninth inning, manager John Farrell could've summoned a reliever out of the Toronto bullpen, but he summoned a catcher instead. What would've been the point of using a pitcher? Oh, hell, I don't know, maybe because pitchers are pitchers and position players are not pitchers. But maybe Farrell was trying to save what pitchers he had left, or maybe Farrell was trying to embarrass what pitchers he'd already used.
In any case, Jeff Mathis pitched the top of the ninth, needing 21 pitches. How did he do?
When Mathis entered, the A's were up by 14, and when Mathis departed, the A's were up by 16. However, the two runs charged to Mathis in one inning weren't much worse than the 1.75 runs per inning charged to the previous pitchers. Jeff Mathis is a bad pitcher, because he is a catcher, but in the context of Wednesday night, he was not that bad of a pitcher.
This isn't just about Wednesday night, though. Why did Farrell call on Mathis? For probably a number of reasons, one of them probably being that Farrell had called on Mathis once before. Exactly two months earlier, on May 25, Mathis entered a blowout late and threw a shutout inning against the Rangers. He needed 21 pitches then, too, finishing with three fly balls and a pop-up allowed.
Fans love when position players get to pitch, because they make for something interesting in a game that has long since stopped being interesting, but managers usually hate it. They feel humiliated, and they don't want to see a position player get hurt overthrowing. It's difficult to select the right guy. Farrell figured Mathis was the right guy before, probably because he's a catcher and catchers have strong arms. Farrell figured Mathis was the right guy Wednesday, probably because he's a catcher and probably because it wasn't going to be his first rodeo.
Said Mathis after his first pitching experience in May:
Mathis said the last time he pitched in a game was in high school. "That was my first professional pitching appearance there," he said. "(Manager John Farrell) asked me and I'd done it before and any way to help the team out."
Obviously we've seen position players pitch before, like Mitch Maier on April 15. Darnell McDonald on May 6. Chris Davis on May 6, when he was outstanding and won. But very seldom have we recently seen a position player pitch multiple times in the same season, as Jeff Mathis now has.
Maier has pitched twice, but once in two different seasons. The same goes for McDonald. Paul Janish pitched twice in 2009, and was absolutely terrible. Aaron Miles pitched twice in 2007 and in 2010. Josh Wilson pitched twice in 2009. Dave McCarty pitched an incredible three times in 2004. Tim Bogar pitched twice in 2000. And that's it, since the turn of the new millennium. Excepting Tim Bogar, depending on when you choose to begin the new millennium.
Jeff Mathis has now done something that not a lot of other ballplayers have done. That was already true after his first relief outing, but now it's even more true, with an even smaller group of peers. It's odd that Farrell subjected a guy who's now an everyday player to the dangerous rigors of pitching, but the guy in question is just Jeff Mathis so you know whatever.
I don't know what there is to conclude from this, beyond what's already been concluded -- Jeff Mathis pitched, again, and that's rare. He does not seem very good at pitching, although he has thrown scoreless innings 50 percent of the time. Based on the other position players who have pitched multiple times in one season, we might conclude that Jeff Mathis is not a very valuable position player. But as long as we're concluding things we concluded in 2007, hey, did you know Boris Yeltsin is dead? Jeff Mathis has a career 54 OPS+ and no amount of good defense could make that acceptable on a regular basis. Unless you're thein which case you play baseball by casting spells.
If Jeff Mathis pitches a third time, perhaps in exactly two months, then we'll really be on to something.