Even going back to last season, opposing teams were throwing at Josh Donaldson in an effort to take him off his game. I just want to make this very clear before getting into this, but there’s a big difference between brushing a batter back who’s crowding the plate, and throwing up and in against a player simply to take said batter out of their comfort zone.
Yesterday, in the top of the 8th inning of the final game of a 3-game series between the Mariners and Blue Jays, a series which had up to that point been very clean and respectful, the Mariners decided to start getting a little nasty. With Seattle up 1-0 in the top of the 8th, Seattle closer Edwin Diaz, fired a 98 MPH fastball up and in against Donaldson on the very first pitch of the at-bat. The M’s had lost the first two games of the series, so they unfortunately felt the need to do whatever it was going to take to protect their 1-run lead, even if it meant stooping to throw at Donaldson only to take him off his game and keep him from tying things up with one swing.
Apparently throwing up and in to Donaldson is becoming a fairly common strategy throughout the league that opposing teams have begun implementing in an attempt to take the reigning MVP off his game. It’s sad to think that teams actually plan to take an opposing hitter off his game by throwing at his head. After the Blue Jays took the field to begin the bottom of the 8th inning, Donaldson walked up to Toronto reliever Brett Cecil, said a few words and pointed over to the Mariners dugout. After striking out the first batter he faced, Cecil then faced Seattle’s best player, Robinson Cano. After starting Cano off with a curve ball that froze him pretty good, Cecil then proceeded to throw his best fastball up and in on the 7-time all-star. Donaldson had obviously told Cecil to get Cano back for what had happened to him in the top of the inning, and frankly, as much as I hate to condone throwing major league fastballs anywhere near a batters head, these sort of things are to be expected when the opposition starts taking cheap shots by throwing at one of Toronto’s best hitters.
Donaldson wasn’t crowding the plate when they threw at him, nor did Toronto plunk any Seattle batter earlier in the game to provoke such a pitch to be thrown by Diaz…this strategy of throwing at Donaldson was designed solely to make him feel uncomfortable in the box during a crucial at bat. Brushing a batter back who’s crowding the plate is one thing, but to throw at a batter (especially his head) to get him off his game is a garbage move and there’s no place for it in baseball.
The fact that Toronto plays a clean brand of baseball can’t be forgotten here. Rarely when batters start getting hit is Toronto the team that initiates it, and there in lies part of the problem. As glad as I am that the Blue Jays man-up and challenge batters with pitches in the strike zone rather than throwing at them, this friendly approach can often leave them vulnerable later on in a game when their down and trying to make something happen with their big hitters. How much revenge baseball can the Blue Jays risk to play when they’re still only down by a single run? And that’s exactly what the Mariners planned for, hoping that the Blue Jays might just be more concerned about getting their revenge rather than trying to overcome the 1-run deficit.
Even though the Blue Jays eventually lost the game in extra innings, the way they went about their business after Donaldson was thrown at couldn’t have been more fitting. What happened after Diaz threw at Donaldson was that Toronto was prompted to get a little nasty themselves, and it was completely justified. As mentioned earlier, Cecil came right in on Cano with a hard fastball, but even after Cecil was pulled for Jason Grilli, Grilli started busting Kyle Seager inside without a care in the world.
There’s no place in the baseball for this kind of behaviour, especially when pitchers are throwing over 100 MPH and then toying with a batter by throwing inches from their face just to gain a slight advantage. The fact that other teams are getting away with this sort of behaviour to protect their lead is disappointing and a pathetic approach to defend a lead.