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Derek Fisher’s strange no–plate-appearance pinch hitting assignment in his Blue Jays debut

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Outfielder Derek Fisher made his Blue Jays debut pinch hitting for Randal Grichuk on a 0-2 count, leading to this rare occurrence.

Derek Fisher’s debut with the Blue Jays as a pinch hitter for Randal Grichuk.
Screenshot of Sportsnet’s broadcast

Derek Fisher, the Blue Jays’ return for sending Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, and Cal Stevenson to the Astros, made his debut for Toronto on August 1 as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning against the Orioles. That in itself is not strange, but Fisher was summoned to duty only because Randal Grichuk had fouled a ball off of his own face and had to leave the game.

Thus, Fisher stepped up to the plate with an 0-2 count against pitcher Dillon Tate. Tate’s first pitch to Fisher was an inside fastball to make it 1-2 then Fisher struck out swinging at a fastball outside. In accordance with Rule 9.15(b), the strikeout and the at bat was charged to Grichuk as he had already reached two strikes before he was substituted.

In fact, on the Orioles’ broadcast, you can hear Freddy Galvis remind Fisher of that on the on-deck circle.

The game ended in the bottom of the ninth (with the Jays winning 11-2) so Fisher did not step back to plate, giving him 0 plate appearances in the game despite being a pinch hitter. Now, a no–plate-appearance pinch hitting assignment is not that rare (according to Baseball-Reference, it has happened 110 times in Blue Jays history), but the majority of the cases came when a pinch hitter is immediately replaced by another pinch hitter, usually when the other manager counters with a pitching change.

What if we only looked at the subset of those cases where the pinch hitter was still in the lineup at the end of the game? That whittles the list down to just eight occurrences. Let’s see how those pinch hitters ended up without a plate appearance:

Runner picked off

On September 21, 1980 the Blue Jays were playing at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium when Steve Braun pinch hit for Bob Bailor in the top of the ninth with two outs down 2-1 against the Orioles. Lloyd Moseby came in to pinch run for John Mayberry Sr. at second base and gets picked off on a 2-2 count to end the game.

Runner caught stealing

Cliff Johnson was pinch hitting for Jorge Orta when Willie Upshaw was caught stealing at second base on August 17, 1983. Upshaw was caught stealing second base again on July 22, 1986 when Rance Mulliniks was pinch hitting for Garth Iorg in the 12th. Damaso Garcia was caught stealing at second when Rick Leach pinch hit for Jesse Barfield in the top of the 13th inning on July 25, 1984. Tony Fernandez was gunned down on a pickoff move started by Mitch Williams with pinch hitter Garth Iorg at the plate on April 9, 1986.

Ejection-related mid-at bat substitution

Garth Iorg, who pinch hit for Ernie Whitt in the ninth inning of the September 30, 1986 game against the Yankees, was ejected by home plate umpire Drew Cobie for arguing a strike two call. Cliff Johnson pinch hit for Iorg and Dave Righetti completed the strikeout, which was assigned to the ejected Iorg.

On August 27, 1988, Rick Leach completed a strike out after being brought in to pinch hit for George Bell. In Bell’s eighth inning at bat against the Rangers’ Charlie Hough, he stepped out of the batter’s box without plate umpire Tim Welke giving time and Hough delivered a called strike with Bell still outside of the box. Bell and manager Jimy Williams made their complaints to Welke but to no avail. A couple pitches later, amidst chirping from the Toronto dugout, the other umpires got involved, voices were raised, things got out of control and Bell got ejected. The normally mild-mannered (heh) Bell then went “positively theatrical” according to the Toronto Star’s Dave Perkins. Perkins continued:

The enraged outfielder threw seven batting helmets from the dugout onto the field, one at a time. This was after he was restrained by coaches Cito Gaston and Winston Llenas from charging umpire Tim Welke [...]

Injury-related mid-at bat substitution

For more than 30 years after the George Bell incident, on August 1, 2019, Derek Fisher made his team debut by swinging at strike three to complete Randal Grichuk’s strikeout after Grichuk was removed from the game having fouled a ball off his face.