The intentional walk isn't for everyone. We've seen calls to have it abolished, while others have proposed cutting the foreplay and simply advancing the batter without the wasted pitches. Despite their decreasing popularity, every manager uses them. In most cases, the pitcher who faced the previous batter will have to throw four wide ones before the skipper makes his next move. Rarely will a manager will bring in a reliever and ask him to walk the first batter he faces. Even more rarely still, will a manager bring in a reliever and ask him to intentionally walk the ONLY batter he faces. To play but not be allowed to compete. This is the Great Indignity.
Fortunately for the morale of most relief pitchers, the Great Indignity has only happened 13 times since 2010. This year, it happened on the very first day of the season when Frank Garces -- proud owner of 9.0 big league innings -- came in to relieve Nick Vincent. Vincent had retired the first two batters of the 7th inning before giving up back to back doubles that tied the game at 3. Lefty Carl Crawford was due up next. Nick Vincent out. Frank Garces in.
It was a big moment for the young left-hander, and not just because it was opening day. Garces had been given the ball in a high leverage opportunity in his second last appearance the year before. That night, he couldn't put out the fire that Blaine Boyer lit, allowing a single to Belt that plated the final run. With Matt Duffy pinch hitting for Tim Lincecum, Garces got the hook. His next appearance was the final game of the season. Relieved of his typical LOOGY duty, Garces went 1.1 innings in a 9-3 loss.
Garces bounded in from the bullpen, back in the Bud Black trust tree as a lefty specialist. But Don Mattingly did not abide, pulling Crawford in favor of right-hander Scott Van Slyke. Garces missed away with his first pitch to Andy's bearded son and low with his second. By then Black had seen enough and called for two intentional balls before asking for Shawn Kelley.
But Garces had initially received the green light from Black to throw to Van Slyke! Only when he couldn't bring the count to 1-1 did his catcher stand with arm outstretched. Garces left the mound defeated, but could hold his head high. He had been given the opportunity to compete.
The last true incidence of the Great Indignity came late last season in a matchup between the Orioles and Rays. Darren O'Day started the bottom of the eighth but he couldn't throw strikes. He chased a leadoff walk to Logan Forsythe with a double to Kevin Kiermaier. O'Day eventually recorded an out, but it took him 10 pitches to coax a ground ball out from Jose Molina. The runners held at second and third. Out trotted Buck Showalter to pluck the ball from the submariner's right hand.
Professionally, Joe Saunders was having a rough year. Signed by the Rangers, he allowed 5 runs in a debut he would leave after just 3.2 innings thanks to a batted ball that found his ankle. He returned in late May and made 7 more starts before he got his walking papers. Saunders spent time in the Royals minor league system before being released again and signing with Baltimore, the club that would eventually return Saunders to The Show.
But, when he joined Baltimore, it was in a role that he had previously resisted. When on the DL in Texas, Saunders had publicly stumped to remain in the rotation. Before rejoining the Orioles, Saunders logged 1,384 big league innings and every one was in a games that he started. But he was a left-hander with pronounced platoon splits and he hadn't been pitching particularly well. Saunders must have read the writing on the wall, as he made 10 bullpen appearances in Norfolk before being called up. Upon his arrival, Saunders embraced his role, at least publicly.
"It’s been fun," Saunders said of his transition to the bullpen. "It’s kind of a breath of fresh air, if you will. Coming to the ballpark knowing you can play every day almost, rather than every fifth day. It’s been fun."
In his first big league relief appearance he entered in the eighth, with two inherited runners and one out. Saunders threw five pitches, hit one batter, and induced a ground ball double play that ended the inning. One game in the pen. One game finished. Saunders hadn't seen the end of a ball game since June 19, 2013. He was a major leaguer again, and it must have felt good.
As Showalter trotted toward O'Day he tapped his index and middle fingers to his left arm. Thirty seconds later, Saunders appeared on the mound. The Skipper handed him the ball O'Day forfeited, but the appearance came with a condition. Simply turning Bed Zobrist around to his weaker right side wasn't enough. Showalter wanted the bases loaded, hoping to induce a double play from the next batter, lefty David DeJesus. Steve Clevenger stood behind and just to the right of home plate as Saunders dutifully lobbed them in. 71. 73. 74. 75 mph.
Saunders adjusted his cap and readied himself for the unfortunate lefty in waiting. Only DeJesus had turned back towards the dugout. In his place taking dry cuts was right-hander Wil Myers. Though Myers' season was in a different sort of shambles, Showalter wasn't about to roll the dice with Saunders. Not during a playoff race. Once again he trotted out to the mound. But this time, the man surrendering the ball hadn't even been given the opportunity to throw it for a strike. The Great Indignity.
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Matt Jackson is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu.