Earlier in the week, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa stopped using the designated hitter in National League spring parks to enable the pitchers to get ready for the regular season as batters.
Now, La Russa has returned to batting his pitchers ninth – in certain situations – i.e. when there is no obvious “second leadoff hitter”.
This use of the number nine hitter to help set the table for “second clean up hitter” Albert Pujols was one of two key reasons La Russa cited when making the initial switch in August, 2007.
The other reason was to shake up a slumping offense. That should not be a problem currently, as even before they plated 12 runs on Friday, the Cardinals were leading the Grapefruit League in spring run scoring. Granted, it was with liberal use of the DH, but runs are runs.
La Russa said the following to MLB.com, attributing the change to the personnel, not the soundness of his theory.
“My official answer is that I believe that the pitcher hitting eighth, for all the reasons that we’ve talked about at length, is a better lineup, because it brings that second leadoff man, which gets Albert [Pujols] in the cleanup spot. But you’ve got to have somebody who fits there.”
On days like Friday, with Colby Rasmus batting second after Skip Schumaker and six other hard-hitting position players, La Russa has no number nine hitter.
“You can’t put Ankiel, Ludwick or Duncan in the nine spot,” La Russa said. “You can’t put Glaus there. Hopefully, you shouldn’t put Khalil [Greene] there. You won’t put [Skip] Schumaker there. You won’t put Albert there. And you aren’t going to put Yadier [Molina] there. So if that’s the case, then I probably will hit the pitcher ninth.”
La Russa did leave the door open to return to the pitcher hitting eighth, though it seems that will be the exception, rather than the norm.
“But some days, if there’s a true second leadoff playing, or if you’re not scoring any runs with the pitcher ninth, then I’ll say one of you guys will hit ninth,” La Russa explained.
What do you think? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
In other words, does the lineup potentially need more run scorers to be in balance or will all the mashers make the point moot?
What would be your preferred batting order? How would it change with a left-hander pitching for the opponent?