Todd Frazier, meet Smokey Burgess. Todd Frazier, meet Manny Mota. It’s too early to put the Cincinnati Reds’ back-up third baseman into the all-time, career, pinch-hitter category, but when you talk single-season, Frazier is making inroads.
After a recent game when Frazier stroked a key double to enable the Reds to make a comeback, the future permanent Reds starter at third, was batting .875 as a pinch-hitter for 2012. He was seven-for-eight coming off the bench for a solo try at giving the club a lift. It’s no wonder that Reds manager Dusty Baker has confidence in his second-year player.
In the National League they still play ball the old-fashioned way. Pitchers must bat for themselves and that means in the latter innings of close games, the call for pinch hitters will be made much more frequently than it is in the American League. The designated hitter is a full-time pinch-hitter, used in lieu of the weak-hitting pitcher, so the need for a reliable pinch-hitter in the AL is less urgent and is much more situational.
In an era where pitchers rarely throw complete games, the necessity for solid pinch-hitters is much more important because the opportunity arises almost surely at least once per game. This season, Frazier, who has also been filling in ably for sometimes-injured Scott Rolen at third, has become a maestro of the big hit at the right time. “Pinch hitter” is now his middle name.
Baker loves what Frazier is doing, but after decades in the game as a player and manager, he understands the law of averages and the law of hot streaks. Frazier is probably not going to stay at a near-.900 hitting level.
“The league doesn’t know him yet,” Baker said.
The pinch-hitter has a challenging job. After sitting around in the dugout all game, usually for numerous innings, he must produce at a fingersnap, with little time to warm up. Frazier is starting to groove on the role, though.
Burgess, the long-time Pittsburgh Pirate, and Mota, the long-time Los Angeles Dodger, had the knack to overcome the obstacles of just showing up in the lineup for a brief cameo and doing the most damage. Frazier said he does his best to study opposing pitchers during the game and he always watches video of pitchers before the game.
“I watch a lot of video of relief pitchers,” Frazier said.
Makes sense since he is most likely to be summoned in the late innings when the other team’s starter has already departed. The goal of relief pitchers, Frazier said, is “to try to get you to go after their pitch. If it’s 2-0 and they throw a fastball, I get my pitch.”
A lot of what Frazier does before a game is prospective studying since he has no way of knowing which pitcher he might face, or if he will get into the game at all. He has tried to build trust with Baker by his performance.
“I think of two things,” Frazier said. “If it’s a lefty I think I’ll get the call. If there’s runners on base, I’d like to think I’d get that call. I’m ready for anything. I’m stretched out. I’m always loose.”
It’s hard to quarrel with technique or approach when a guy is hitting like .900 in a role.
“I’d rather be starting,” Frazier said, which is no surprise. “I don’t mind pinch-hitting. You’ve got to be ready. That’s the bottom line. It’s something to put on your slate.”
Frazier’s successes have produced a “wow” reaction. Friends and family text and email saying he should be in the Hall of Fame or something. One at-bat at a time is hard to deal with and focus on, but Frazier is pulling it off.
“I don’t take it for granted,” he said. “With one at-bat you’re helping the team. They say pinch-hitting is toughest thing in baseball. You’ve got to have the will inside to want to get that next hit.”