DETROIT -- Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander gave voice Monday to a topic that surprisingly has not created more of an issue before this. Asked about Shane Victorino’s penchant for being hit by a pitch -- he has been hit five times in the postseason, beginning with his first plate appearance in Game 1 of the ALDS -- Verlander suggested that umpires should take into account the way Victorino appears to hang over the plate in the right-handed batter’s box.
“I’ve seen pitches that he got hit on that were strikes,’’ Verlander said during a formal media interview session. “So, I mean, I don’t think you can worry about that. I think just whoever is the home plate umpire needs to be aware he’s up there.
“Anything on the inner half, occasionally he’s looking to get hit. He’s up there, he’s right on top of the plate. And his arms are over the batter’s box and over part of the plate. If he doesn’t get out of the way, there could be an occasion that it could be a strike and it actually hits him.
“That’s something that I think that those guys (umpires) are aware of. But you can’t think about not hitting a guy. You’ve got to think about executing your pitches and not changing anything because of that. And hopefully, if something like that happens those guys are on top of it.’’
According to Major League rule 6.08 (b), umpires have the discretion to call a pitch a strike if it hits a batter if the pitch is in the strike zone. Here is how the rule reads:
The batter is awarded first base when “he is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or 2) the batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.
“If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.’’
Victorino was hit an American League-leading 18 times in 2013, including 11 times in the 38 games since he began batting right-handed against right-handed pitchers. Customarily a switch-hitter, Victorino abandoned hitting from the left side because of hamstring and back issues that have plagued him all season.
To date, no one has made such a direct challenge as Verlander to Victorino’s setup at the plate, though Rays left-hander Alex Torres, who hit Victorino in the fifth inning of Game 4 of the ALDS, gestured to plate umpire Paul Emmel, indicating displeasure at what he considered Victorino’s lack of effort to avoid the pitch.
Fangraphs.com took a detailed look at the issue here, and for the most part absolves Victorino of liability, although it cites one egregious example in which Victorino appears to have stuck his elbow into the strike zone to be hit by a pitch thrown by Kansas City’s James Shields.
For the record, Verlander hit four batters this season. All were right-handed hitters.