Whenever a position player has pitched with James McCann behind the plate, he gives the same piece of advice. He followed it when he took a major league mound himself for the first time.
Pitching the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night in the Orioles’ 10-3 loss to the San Diego Padres, the 10-year veteran did what he’s told other position players who have pitched to him: “Throw it slow as you can for strikes.” In a scoreless inning, only one of McCann’s 14 pitches exceeded 50 mph, and nine of them were in the zone or put in play.
“I think I threw harder in the cage warming up than I did on the field,” McCann said. “There’s no such thing as throwing it above hitting speed, but there’s something to throwing below hitting speed. If you’re just kind of out there playing catch, well then it’s like batting practice. I’m a big believer in position players, just see how slow you can throw it and let your defense make some plays.”
With the Orioles losing 10-1 at the time after starter Jack Flaherty lasted only three innings, manager Brandon Hyde asked McCann to spare a taxed bullpen another frame. He induced three groundouts around a single and double, stranding two in scoring position.
McCann, 33, said he’s never dreamed of pitching in the big leagues but that the experience was “definitely a memory that I’ll have forever,” saying his young sons, Christian and Kane, had “big smiles” when he FaceTimed them Wednesday.
“I obviously wish we weren’t in that situation, but understand the situation, understand we’ve got to save our bullpen, go out there and try and make them hit it right at guys,” McCann said. “It’s one of those things that no one wants to do it, but you understand in the moment the importance of it for today, for the next few days just to save our bullpen.”
McCann was the third Orioles position player to pitch this season, joining outfielder Ryan McKenna — whom he caught — and infielder Josh Lester. Hyde, who described McCann’s outing as “the best part of the game,” has used 11 position players as pitchers in his five seasons with Baltimore. In 2019, utility player Stevie Wilkerson notably became the first pitching position player in MLB history to earn a save in a 16-inning victory against the Los Angeles Angels; Wilkerson, who similarly to McCann lobbed the ball during his five career pitching appearances for Baltimore, garnered the nickname “Dr. Poo Poo” after referring his pitches as such.
McCann couldn’t recall what batterymate Adley Rutschman said to him after the inning but said second baseman Adam Frazier joked with him about his ability to “navigate the top of the lineup.” He’s caught several Cy Young Award-winning pitchers in his career, and now, he has a lower ERA than all of them.
“For the time being,” McCann said, “I guess I got some bragging rights.”
Around the horn
- Outfielder Aaron Hicks’ sore back kept him out of the Orioles’ lineup for a second straight game, with Hyde unsure before the game whether he would be available to play.
- The Orioles will keep their six-man rotation on turn for their upcoming series at Oakland, starting Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin and Kyle Bradish.
- Hyde said the Orioles did not feel a need to make a roster move to add a reliever for Wednesday’s game because of Thursday’s day off.