Tuesday night in Denver, Astros manager made one of the most unusual moves a manager will occasionally make, sending his relief pitcher to right field for one batter, then bringing him back to the mound.
The idea, of course, is to maintain the platoon advantage for three hitters without having to use three pitchers. In this case, the left-hander Wesley Wright was summoned to start the bottom of the eighth inning against lefty-hitting Carlos Gonzalez. After retiring CarGo, Wright went to right field, Mills called upon right-hander David Carpenter, who retired righty-hitting Troy Tulowitzki ... after which Wright returned to the mound to face lefty-hitting Todd Helton. He got him, too. So Mills' highly unorthodox tactics worked perfectly.
How rare is this move? Lou Piniella did it a couple of years ago in this game, with lefty Sean Marshall. Which inspired me to write a couple of pieces about the tactic (here and here). If you want to read a somewhat comprehensive history of the move, you should check those out. Today, just a few highlights ...
As near as I've been able to tell, this sort of move disappeared from 1909 until perhaps the late 1940s, when minor-league manager Paul Richards deployed the scheme in an International League game. Richards did it again in 1951, by which time he was managing the Chicago White Sox, so it got a fair amount of publicity. The best evidence suggests that Richards did it four times in the majors; his nickname was "the Wizard of Waxahachie" -- Richards hailed from Waxahachie, Texas -- leading a reader to suggest calling the move "the Waxahachie Swap".
A suggestion that I lustily endorsed.
Anyway, Richards did it four times in the early '50s. Alvin Dark, who managed through most of the 1960s and a chunk of the '70s, did it four times. I'm sure I've missed some, but I believe that Richards, Dark, and Whitey Herzog are the only managers to pull the Swap at least four times. There were isolated incidents in 1957, 1965, 1968, 1970 and 1979.
The 1979 incident came in this game, when Pirates manager Chuck Tanner sent submarining reliever Kent Tekulve to right field with two outs in the ninth. Tekulve didn't actually pitch again, but presumably would have if the next hitter hadn't made the game-ending out. There's at least one other Swap like that; I count them if the intent was presumably to bring the pitcher back in to pitch, even if he didn't actually wind up pitching twice.
Tanner did it again in 1986, this time while managing the Braves. But Tanner had nothing on Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, who earlier that season had pulled the Swap twice in four days, both times with Todd Worrell. And Herzog did it twice more -- in 1987 and '89 -- again with Worrell both times. Somewhat oddly, Worrell pitched twice in only one of those four outings.
Herzog's the last manager who really seemed to love the Waxahachie Swap, with Lou Piniella the only manager to do it even twice -- 16 years apart, no less -- since then.
Does the move make sense? Two years ago, I wrote this:
My guess? The Waxahachie Swap doesn't often make sense ... but makes sense a lot more often than it's actually employed.
So why do we see it so rarely? Because most of the time, a manager's fear of doing something unorthodox and looking foolish overpowers momentary tactical considerations.
Perhaps it makes sense less often now than ever before. When Richards did it 60 years ago, he probably had a four- or five-man bullpen, so burning three pitchers for three batters was hard to justify. These days, with six- and seven-man bullpens, managers can obviously afford to be somewhat more profligate. Still, all relievers aren't created equal. And some bullpens feature just one good lefty. Seems to me that if the Waxahachie Swap is worth trying once in a blue moon, it's worth trying twice.
Now we just have to hope Brad Mills doesn't get fired before the next time.