- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- He came trotting out of the bullpen as the bottom of the sixth inning arrived.
Here he was, David McCarty, one of the truly ground-breaking figures in the long, storied and, OK, essentially meaningless history of the Grapefruit League. Yet hardly a soul in the ballpark had a clue what they were witnessing.
Including the guys he was about to pitch against.
"When they announced his name," said the on-deck hitter, Phillies center fielder Marlon Byrd, "I was, like, 'Dave McCarty? I know his name. I just didn't know he pitched.' "
Well, he didn't. Until now, at least.
Monday afternoon, in the late innings of an otherwise forgettable Red Sox split-squad exhibition game, McCarty began the new, improved, quasi-revolutionary phase of his baseball career.
Thirteen years, 10 teams and 1,338 at-bats after the Twins made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 1991 draft -- as an outfielder-first baseman -- McCarty, 34, launched his experimental transformation Monday into a modern baseball innovational-type phenomenon that can best be described as ... um ...
It was only a year ago this time, remember, that people were chuckling skeptically as Kieschnick was aspiring to make it back to the big leagues as an all-purpose pitching-hitting-outfielding-pinch-hitting kind of guy in the Brewers' camp.
And then an amazing thing happened:
Kieschnick pitched in 42 games, got 70 at-bats, outhomered Robbie Alomar (7 to 5), had a lower ERA than Jeff Weaver (5.26 to 5.99) and became the first player in history to hit a home run as a pitcher, a DH and a pinch hitter in the same season.
So you had to figure it was only a matter of time before somebody else tried to turn Kieschnick's twist on utility-man life from an oddity into a trend. Well, that time is now. And that trend-maker turns out to be David McCarty.
"This is just something I've been thinking about for several years," McCarty said. "I can still remember a series in 1999, when I was with Toledo and Brooks Kieschnick was with Durham. We had two blowouts in a three-game series. So he pitched in one game. I pitched in one game. And the next day, he and I were joking around, saying, 'Hey, we ought to do that.' "
Which only goes to prove that sometimes in baseball, today's laugh can turn into tomorrow's reality way more easily than anybody suspects.
Except there's a major difference between Kieschnick's motivation and McCarty's for hanging out in bullpens. A decade into Kieschnick's career, he'd never spent a full season in the big leagues before last season -- and hadn't even gotten 50 major-league at-bats in any season since 1997.
McCarty, on the other hand, hit a combined .340 for the Red Sox and A's last year after a monster half-season in the Pacific Coast League. And whether he ever pitches or not, he already has one cool little place in Red Sox trivia -- because, after arriving in Boston last August, his batting average was a Splinter-esque .407.
All right, so it was in only 27 at-bats. But the only Red Sox players since Ted Williams who have batted .400 in any season of 27 at-bats or more are Fred Lynn in 1974, Scott Cooper in 1991, Rudy Pemberton in 1996 and McCarty. So .400 is .400.
By an amazing coincidence, .400 happens to be the current batting average of opposing hitters against McCarty the pitcher, too -- one inning and five batters into his pitching career.
He threw 14 pitches Monday, gave up a bunt single and a double, got three fly-ball outs to preserve his 0.00 ERA and then summed up just how confusing his life has now become.
By playing the last three innings at first base.
"Just like high school," Byrd laughed.
In fact, though, that's just what it was like.
At Sharpstown High School in Houston in the late 1980s, McCarty was such an imposing two-way threat that "some colleges were recruiting me more to pitch than hit," he said.
But he wound up at Stanford, where the staff was so deep "that Mike Mussina was only our No. 2 starter" (behind ex-Padre Stan Spencer), McCarty chuckled. So his summation of his college pitching career could be boiled down to four words: "They wouldn't let me."
Once that pitching stuff gets into a guy's blood, however, it hangs around forever, apparently. So late last season, McCarty approached Red Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace with an idea he hadn't been able to get out of his head.
Guess what that was.
"We talked about it in September," Wallace said. "And we said, 'Well, how about next spring?' So we all talked about it with [GM] Theo [Epstein]. And everybody said, 'Hey, it can't hurt anything.' "
So poof. Here he is.
McCarty has spent his crazy, exhausting spring yo-yo-ing from pitchers' drills to cutoffs and relays (with both the infielders and outfielders). You can find him working on his changeup one minute, taking extra batting practice the next.
"I have to work harder than other people," he said. "But that's OK. It's something I asked for, so it's something I have to deal with."
"We've just talked about simple stuff, fundamental stuff," Schilling reported. "What to work on when he's throwing BP. Trying to narrow down his repertoire from 14 pitches to about four. You know how those position players are. They've got a knuckleball, a split, a forkball, a changeup and four fastballs. They fool around with it playing catch, and they say, 'Whoa, what a nasty pitch.' But that doesn't work when you actually get out there."
So when McCarty did finally get out there Monday, he kept it as basic as possible: Try to get ahead with his fastball. Then get outs with his slider, splitter and changeup.
He pitched only from the stretch ("probably a good idea to work on that," he said). He worked fast. And while his fastball topped out at 84 mph, he was able to hide the ball with a high knee kick that caused Byrd to say, admiringly: "He's got a little funk out there."
"The ball moves a lot," said Byrd, who flied out to center. "I know that. And he hides it. I don't know how long it's been since he pitched. But it looks like he knows what he's doing."
"I was definitely nervous," McCarty said. "I don't know if I've ever been that nervous hitting. ... It was just the whole idea of getting out there for real. That's just something I've been anxious to do."
And the good news (kind of) was that when it was over, he was probably more upset about his hitting than his pitching -- since his only at-bat resulted in a check-swing thunker to first base.
Asked if that at-bat should be listed on the stat sheet with the pitchers' offensive numbers, McCarty laughed: "With an at-bat like that, I think it has to. It's OK for a pitcher to do that. As a hitter, it isn't too hot."
Then again, they already know he can hit. Where the rest of this goes from here, nobody quite knows. He'll get his at-bats. He'll get his innings. Then they'll try to figure it all out.
"It's probably a long shot," Wallace admitted. "But if we carry 11 pitchers, or even 12, and he's one of the bench guys anyway, and he can save the staff some innings during the year, that could be a big thing."
You can never have enough left-handers on any staff, right? Especially 6-foot-5 left-handers who also hit .407 in their spare time. So if this works, consider the possibilities.
"You could really screw up the other manager," Schilling quipped, "by bringing a guy in and double-switching so he does bat instead of that he doesn't bat."
"Or say you've got a left-handed hitter coming up," McCarty mused. "And I happen to be in the lineup, in the outfield. You could bring me in to face the left-hander, put the pitcher out there for one batter, then bring him right back in to face the next guy."
"See," Wallace laughed, when that brainstorm was passed along, "those Stanford guys are too smart. But that's good. This guy has an understanding of what he is -- and what he could be."
And in a way, it's almost fitting that all this should be happening to a guy wearing the uniform of those always-innovative Red Sox. They did, after all, once employ a pretty fair two-way sensation from another era -- a fellow named Babe Ruth.
"Unfortunately," said Dave McCarty, "the only similarity between me and Babe Ruth is, we both throw left-handed. That's where the similarities end."
Well, for now maybe. But stay tuned.