MLB has suspended Jose Urena six games for banging his first – and last, as it turned out – pitch of Wednesday’s game off Ronald Acuna’s elbow. That’s not nothing. But not being nothing isn’t nearly the same as being enough.
Urena is a starting pitcher. He works every five days. His suspension amounts to one missed turn. That’s not enough to hurt; it’s barely enough to sting. Credit Joe Torre and MLB for doing something. Debit him/it for not doing more.
Baseball may never have a better chance to send a message about pitchers hitting batters on purpose. Acuna had hoisted leadoff home runs against Miami, Urena’s team, in three consecutive games. When the Braves’ rookie led off Game 4 of the series, Urena hit him with a fastball timed at 97.5 mph. It was the fastest fastball Urena has loosed on the first pitch of any game, and it wasn’t placed so as to move Acuna off the plate. It arrived up and in. It could have done real harm.
As odd as it sounds, everybody got lucky. Acuna’s elbow was only bruised. (Indeed, he started Thursday night against Colorado.) The Braves were fortunate that their most gifted player missed only eight innings. MLB was lucky that the burgeoning will be able to generate more highlights from here through September and probably beyond. Urena was lucky he hadn’t shelved one of the game’s best young players long-term. If he had, he’d have been an even bigger villain – and his suspension might have been much longer.
You’d like to think that Torre and MLB don’t pay attention to CT scans, but it’s hard not to believe that Acuna’s diagnosis wasn’t a factor. Baseball just told us that it believes Urena hit Acuna on purpose. (Wednesday’s umpiring crew told us the same by ejecting the pitcher.) So plunking the game’s hottest hitter with apparent malice aforethought wasn’t enough to dock Urena more than one start? Is that any sort of deterrent for future bad actors?
In his postgame remarks Wednesday, Braves manager Brian Snitker (who’d also been ejected) acted as prosecuting attorney. “This young man (Acuna) is just playing the game, doing what he loves to do – and it’s a damn shame what happened that first pitch of the game,” Snitker said.
Then: “That kid didn’t deserve that.”
Then: “I’m not looking for an ejection (for himself). That’s the farthest thing from my mind. I couldn’t care if they left me in the game, threw me out. I’m just thinking this young kid got hit, and it was obviously intentional. Like I say, he’s one of mine.”
Then: “They made ultimately the right decision (ejecting Urena) – because it was obvious that was intended to hit him, and there was just no reason for a young man to be hit like that when all he’s doing is just playing the game. He’s not doing anything to show anybody up. He’s playing the game.”
Then: “That’s a shame that happened. What happens if they hit him here and it breaks his elbow and he’s done for the year? And what we’re trying to accomplish here, and where we’re at – there’s no reason for that. Heck, this is a game. My God … I had three hours to calm down and now I’m getting worked up.”
Then: “You know what you do (if you’re Urena)? You throw a breaking ball. You don’t want him to hit your fastball, you throw a breaking ball. There’s ways to get the kid out. I mean, you throw fastballs down the middle and he hits them out, what do you expect the kid to do? I mean, my God. That’s just completely, unbelievably uncalled for.”
My suggestion was 15 games, and that wasn’t plucked from thin air. Fifteen games is nearly one-tenth of a season. Fifteen games would, for a starting pitcher, mean three turns. (Starters tend to work around 30 times a year; again, 10 percent.) Fifteen games would have been MLB’s way of saying: “We care about our talented players, and we won’t tolerate them getting hurt just because the other team gets mad because it can’t get them out.”
As Snitker said, Acuna had done nothing wrong. He wound up paying for being good. MLB had an opportunity to punish the bad guy. He’ll miss one start. That’s a whiff.