For a moment Saturday, it was like the Houston Astros were back in the National League, at least when it came to the designated hitter. The Astros moved to the American League in 2013 and embraced the DH as a result, but they ran out of position players in their game against the Oakland Athletics Saturday. That lead to manager A.J. Hinch making the rare decision to forfeit the DH spot heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, as you can see in the odd lineup above. (The #42s are because this was Jackie Robinson Day.) Chris Cwik of Yahoo’s Big League Stew has more on how this went down:
As the Astros mounted a comeback, manager A.J. Hinch started burning through his reserves. Brian McCann and Marwin Gonzalez were used as pinch hitters in the sixth inning, and Josh Reddick replaced Carlos Beltran as a pinch runner in the eighth.
With the team carrying 13 pitchers, they had already blown through all their position players. But the moves had worked, and the Astros led the contest 8-6 entering the ninth inning.
That’s when disaster struck. Carlos Correa was hit in the wrist by a pitch and had to be removed from the game. With no position players available, Hinch turned to starting pitcher Mike Fiers as his pinch runner. X-rays on Correa’s wrist came back negative after the game, so it appears the Astros dodged a major bullet there.
…It’s rare, but American League teams can choose to “forfeit” the DH position. That’s exactly what Hinch did here. Alex Bregman moved over from third to short to cover for Correa. Gonzalez moved from first to third, taking Bregman’s old spot. Reddick played first base for the first time in his career to fill in for Gonzalez.
Fiers, who had replaced Correa as a pinch runner in the top of the frame, was replaced by Luke Gregerson. Gregerson remained in the fourth spot, however, which is why you see the pitcher listed as the clean up hitter.
The Astros scored two runs in the top of the ninth, so they had a four-run lead by the time they had to field this unconventional lineup in the bottom of the ninth. They were able to keep Oakland scoreless there, which is fortunate for them; without that, Houston would have had to play the rest of this one like a National League team without the DH, putting them at a disadvantage. (And having the pitcher in the cleanup spot might have been extremely problematic if this went to extra innings.)
This worked out for the Astros in the end, though, even if it led to a remarkably odd lineup. And at 8-4, they’re atop the AL West, and Hinch’s aggressive substitutions in this one certainly didn’t wind up hurting the team. Meanwhile, the Athletics are 5-7. Perhaps they should try more odd strategies like this?