Rocco Baldelli liked being the designated hitter during his playing days. Contrary to the popular belief that players feel more engaged in the game when they are out in the field every half inning, Baldelli enjoyed being around his teammates in the dugout and the ability to get off his feet and just focus on hitting.
“I did not overanalyze or overwork when doing it,” he said. “I would just basically walk around BSing with people and that was it. I would go up and hit when the at-bat came. Go get loose in the cage for five minutes before the at-bat and go hit.”
But some players feel less engaged as the DH. While a sign of maturity for a hitter is his ability not to bring a bad at-bat into the field (i.e. failing to defend his position well after striking out), sometimes a poor result at the plate can affect a designated hitter the next time he steps up to the dish because he’s had too long to think about it.
“Some guys have an immediate feeling right away like, ‘Man I like this,’ or ‘Man, I don’t like this,’” said Baldelli. “Sometimes it has to do with your first couple of games, did you hit any balls? And if you didn’t, it’s really hard to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m loving this DH thing as I sit around for three and a half hours and strike out two times.’”
Nelson Cruz’s ability to contribute as the regular DH has extended his career. At 39 he’s a liability in right field, but he’s already hit 30 home runs this year and is slashing .294/.384/.650.
“There are times where I think unless you’re a regular DH, there are very few guys that kind of are begging into the DH slot and that’s good. Guys want to be out there on the field,” said Baldelli. “There aren’t very many Nellies who can focus in between at-bats very easily, go have a routine, go up and go to the plate and do their job, but again we’re going to use this DH slot as a way to rest guys, get them off their feet.”
He’s already been used as the designated hitter 81 times this season. Jorge Polanco has been used as the DH 10 times this year, C.J. Cron four and everybody else has been three or less.
“It’s not a day off where you’re not doing anything at all,” said Baldelli. “It’s not a complete recovery day, but it’s certainly not having to be on your feet for three hours running around.”
Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario would be logical candidates to DH, but without Byron Buxton in the lineup, they need to be in the outfield. Marwin Gonzalez or Luis Arraez hit well enough to justify occasionally being the DH, but both can play all over the field and are needed for defensive depth. Mitch Garver or Jason Castro could DH when the other one is catching, but Baldelli would run the risk of having to use an emergency catcher if Garver or Castro get hurt behind the dish.
“We have the option of doing that. It’s something that we could see,” said Baldelli. “I wouldn’t want to commit to that in any way. I think there could be times when one of those guys is DH’ing or maybe even potentially playing first base while the other is catching.”
Miguel Sano is an obvious candidate, given that he’s become a prolific power hitter again and Arraez, Gonzalez or Ehire Adrianza could play third base. But he’s played adequate defense at third all year, and the DH spot might be better served as a tool to rest players.
Baldelli, for what it’s worth, hit .258/.345/.500 as DH in his career. For a man who’s monitored his players’ fatigue all year long, he now has another tool he can use to try to keep his players at their best as they fight to hold onto the AL Central lead.