It started with Bruce Chen: I was sitting in the dugout watching batting practice when Bruce came in off the field. Position players take turns hitting, but unless interleague play is coming up, pitchers stay in the outfield the entire time, shagging flies. After thousands of hours shagging flies, wouldn’t some of the pitchers get pretty good at it?
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
So I asked Bruce which pitcher was the best outfielder; if the Royals had a flu epidemic, the position players were barfing their guts out and one pitcher had to be used in the outfield, who should it be?
OK, clearly, I should have seen that coming, so I asked Bruce a different question: if you were on the mound, what pitcher would you want out there?
Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz came in next and I figured he’d be a good guy to ask, so I did: what pitcher would Rusty send out to play the outfield if he had to choose one? Rusty had seen me talking to Bruce and wanted to know who Bruce had picked. When I told him Bruce had picked himself, Rusty rolled his eyes. I told Rusty Bruce’s second pick was Tim Collins. Rusty didn’t pick either of them; he went with Jeremy Guthrie. According to Rusty, Guthrie actually has some idea of what he’s doing out there and knows how to run a route to a fly ball (you don’t go directly to the spot you where think the ball will land, you head to a spot behind that spot and catch the ball coming forward). Bruce saw that I was talking to Rusty and came back toward us and asked: "Rusty, if you had to pick a pitcher to play outfield, who would it be?"
" You, playa’!" Clearly, Rusty is no dope. (I offered to drop by Bruce’s locker afterwards and tell him what Rusty really said.) The next morning it was Luis Mendoza: which pitcher should be sent to the outfield?
I was beginning to sense a pattern. I asked for Mendy’s second choice just as Bruce Chen walked up behind him; Luis picked Tim Collins. Bruce dropped his glove and stood there in mock outrage, lip trembling—a "how could you?" look on his face. Luis started laughing and they immediately began arguing in Spanish. Bruce turned to me: "How many people have picked me as their second choice?"
"Go ask Ned."
"Hey, I already asked Rusty and have his answer."
"No, go ask Ned because I don’t think Rusty really picked me. Ned’s opinion is the only one that matters."
Actually, even though Bruce was reduced to playing a longshot, he was right: manager Ned Yost would have to make the final choice. I decided I would ask Ned, but wait until I’d finished talking to the rest of the pitching staff. I headed back to the clubhouse to ask the other pitchers the same question—who would they pick to go to the outfield in an emergency? Here’s an approximation of how the conversation went:
Greg Holland: "Me, then Timmy."
Tim Collins: "Me. As soon as you become a pitcher, they tell you you’re not an athlete. They won’t even let you catch pop flies. I threw the ball, why can’t I catch it? If not me, James Shields."
James Shields: "Me. I run phenomenal routes and have great hands. Watch me during BP—I can catch the ball behind my back. I just haven’t been here long enough for people to realize how good I am. My second choice is Greg Holland."
Wade Davis: " Really? Just because you can catch a ball behind your back it doesn’t mean you run good routes. It’s me, 100%."
Luke Hochevar: "Let me think about it."
Me: "Not you?"
Hochevar: "No, it’s not me. Let me think." Luke then got up and wandered off. I thought he’d lost interest, but he was actually walking around the clubhouse staring at his teammates’ nameplates above their lockers.
Jeremy Guthrie: "You’ve got to be more specific: which field are we talking about? I’m a left fielder."
James Shields: "Awesome point."
Hochevar (now done thinking): "If it’s left field, Guthrie, Tim in center and Holland in right because of his arm."
Me talking to Guthrie: "OK, if it’s not you in left, who would you send out there?"
Guthrie: "If it’s not me, I don’t know that you have a left fielder."
Next I found Ervin Santana and asked him who he would send to the outfield and he picked Jarrod Dyson. So I said, no, what if he had to send a pitcher out there? "Me, then Tim Collins."
This had been going on for a while, so I figured it was time to ask the boss. The other day Ned walked by in the dugout so I asked him: in an emergency, what pitcher would he send to the outfield?
Ned wanted to know if he could play with eight.
I told him I’d been asking all the pitchers the same question and Ned asked if Bruce Chen thought it was him. I told Ned they all thought they were the guy, with the exception of Hoch—he was the only guy smart enough to pick someone else.
"If I had to, James Shields."
Bruce Chen walked by and we ended where we started: I told him who Ned had picked and Bruce muttered, "Frontrunner." So now we all know which pitcher Ned Yost will send to the outfield in an emergency—but we also know there won’t be any shortage of volunteers.