OAKLAND — The “super-utility” term is thrown around a bit too loosely in baseball these days. That title, however, is truly befitting for Chad Pinder, who just took his versatility to the next level.
Providing a bit of levity for the A’s in a 14-4 blowout loss to the Twins in Wednesday’s series finale at the Coliseum, Pinder was summoned by manager Mark Kotsay to make his Major League pitching debut in the ninth inning.
Entering the day having already appeared at every other position besides pitcher and catcher over his seven big league seasons, Pinder, who started Wednesday’s game in left field, said he’d been lobbying A’s coaches for a chance to take the mound for the past few years now, should a need like this arise.
Displaying quite the mix of velocity on his pitches, which ranged from a minimum of 43.6 mph to a maximum of 86.4 mph, the utility man completed the inning on 26 pitches after allowing three runs on two hits, two walks and a hit batter.
“I tried to throw a couple of changeups,” Pinder said. “But when I was lobbing it, I couldn’t get it over the plate. I guess I need a little bit more practice.”
Pinder admitted that he sometimes throws off the mound in the offseason for fun. To find the last time he actually pitched in a game, though, you’d have to go all the way back to his junior year of high school from 2008-2009, when he was a regular member of the pitching rotation at Poquoson High School in Virginia. So it’s understandable that he spiked a few of his offerings to catcher Christian Bethancourt in the dirt.
“The only time I could really throw a strike was when I was just throwing like I would normally throw in the infield,” Pinder said. “I wasn’t like pumping up or anything. I was just doing what I normally would do.”
Throwing a position player on the mound was an uneasy feeling for Kotsay. But with the A’s trailing by seven runs at the time and the taxed state of the bullpen for a club that just completed a grueling stretch of 15 games in 13 days, it was a decision he felt was necessary.
“I was more nervous that inning than I was the whole game,” Kotsay said. “From Pinder’s side, my fear is that we’re competitors. My fear is getting him hurt.”
By the end of the whole ordeal, Kotsay was able to smile about it, even joking with Pinder after the game about the pitch speeds he saw on the Coliseum scoreboard.
“That’s a big gap,” Kotsay said with a laugh. “I was tempted to go out there [and talk to him]. I knew it wasn’t the right situation, but I wanted to yell at him to calm down, because I’ve seen guys go out there and gas it and get hurt. I’m just thankful he got off the mound and feels good.”
In past seasons, Pinder has often been referred to as Oakland’s emergency catcher. Now that pitching is out of the way, could an inning behind the plate be next?
“I would do it just to do it,” Pinder said. “But I prefer to not have to for the time being.”
Pinder’s lighthearted pitching moment was overshadowed by concern for A’s starter Daulton Jefferies. Kotsay noted the right-hander’s uncharacteristic struggles with command after he’d allowed six runs on seven hits and a season-high three walks with five strikeouts across four innings. After the game, Jefferies, who pitched a high-stress 31-pitch inning to begin his outing, reported that he was experiencing biceps tightness and was unavailable to speak with media due to a scheduled MRI.
“First inning unraveled on him a little bit,” Kotsay said. “He mentioned he’s got some bicep tightness right now. We’re going to do some evaluations and we’ll have more info on Friday. We’re going to do some tests.”
For Jefferies, Wednesday’s start carried a special significance. He found himself in a matchup opposite his baseball idol in former A’s ace Sonny Gray, having spent a good amount of his college days at nearby UC Berkeley planning trips to the Coliseum to watch him pitch.