Backup infielder is worth more to the Tigers as a pitcher
Detroit Tigers backup shortstop Danny Worth pitched the ninth inning in two different blowout losses this week and manager Brad Ausmus, as well as the team’s front office might now have a decision to make about the infielder’s future.
After two extra-inning games in the team’s 3-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians this past week, which taxed the bullpen, the Tigers returned home Thursday for the start of a 4-game weekend series with the Texas Rangers.
Thursday’s 9-2 loss saw Worth pitch the ninth inning for a couple of reasons. First, the game was out of hand. Second, and most importantly, the bullpen was spent and the reserve infielder was a fresh arm.
Saturday, he again pitched the ninth in an even more lopsided 12-2 game, entering when the score was 11-1.
I know exactly what you’re going to ask next: Why is this position player pitching so special?
It’s so special because he’s a knuckleball pitcher and those are a rare breed.
There is one active knuckleballer in the major leagues right now: Toronto Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey. He won the National League Cy Young Award in 2012 when he played for the New York Mets.
Other notable knuckleballers include Tim Wakefield, who won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and Steve Sparks, who pitched for the Tigers from 2000-03.
In an interview with the Detroit News following Thursday’s loss, Worth told the News’s Tom Gage that he’s thrown the pitch his whole life – most recently in high school.
Worth’s career as a Tiger has been less than noteworthy.
He’s played in 128 major league games. Breaking that down by position, according to baseballreference.com, he’s played 38 at shortstop, 59 at second base, 23 at third base, one at first base, two games as the designated hitter and most recently two as the pitcher.
In that time, he’s put together a career batting average of .238 and has 19 career runs batted in.
He’s clearly more of a defensive asset, sporting a career fielding percentage of .978 at the four positions (including pitcher) at which he’s made defensive plays.
Worth has appeared in 13 games this season as a position player, hitting .212 (7-for-33) and knocking in five runs.
Simply put, the knuckleball extends the careers of pitchers – as it did for Wakefield and Dickey. For a guy like Worth who basically lives on the stretch of I-75 between Comerica Park and Fifth Third Field in Toledo, the pitch could totally revamp his career for the better.
President and General Manager Dave Dombrowski as well as the rest of the team’s front office should seriously consider switching Worth into a knuckleballing relief pitcher.
In two games, Worth has a 4.00 ERA and two strikeouts. He has not walked a batter.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho