With the Braves trailing Colorado 10-2 in the eighth inning Friday night at SunTrust Park, bench coach Walt Weiss let infielder-outfielder Charlie Culberson know he likely would need to pitch the ninth.
“I kind of got a little nervous because it was something different,” Culberson said Saturday. “But I enjoyed it.”
Pitching in a game for the first time since his senior year at Calhoun High School in 2007, Culberson got through the ninth inning on 10 pitches, seven of them strikes. He allowed two hits and one run. Impressively, his fastball averaged 92.2 mph, topping at 94.
“I didn’t want to go out there and just lollipop it,” Culberson said. “I didn’t want to go out there and look like an idiot and throw 80 miles an hour and hit people.”
He got a kick out of throwing one slider, but he said he opted against trying to throw a curveball, knuckleball or change-up.
Culberson said he wasn’t surprised when called upon to pitch, having gotten suggestions previously this season that might happen at some point if the Braves needed to spare the overworked bullpen in a blowout game.
Using position players in such circumstances has become fairly common around the major leagues this season. But Culberson became the first position player to pitch for the Braves since Jonny Gomes worked the ninth inning in a 15-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Aug. 28, 2015, at Turner Field.
Culberson didn’t warm up in the bullpen, instead throwing about 15 pitches underneath the stadium after getting the heads-up from Weiss.
Culberson has now played seven of the nine positions this season, all except catcher and center field. Those positions remain possibilities, too. Braves manager Brian Snitker considers Culberson an “emergency catcher” and also would use him in center field if needed.
But Culberson said he has no particular goal of playing all nine positions this season.
“I don’t want to make it something about me. It’s about the team,” he said. “If something crazy happens and I need to do it to help the team out, I will. But I don’t want it to get to that point. … Hopefully, all situations from here on out are bigger situations.”
The Braves lost Friday’s game 11-5.
Culberson said he was “OK” as a pitcher in high school – OK enough that the New York Yankees expressed interest in drafting him as a pitcher. He instead was taken by the San Francisco Giants as an infielder.
“I enjoyed pitching in high school, starting and closing, but I enjoyed hitting and playing defense a little bit more,” he said.
Culberson’s big-league pitching “debut” came against some of his former teammates. He played for the Rockies in 2013 and 2014.
“If they got a hit, so be it,” Culberson said. “They’re supposed to, right?”
While he clearly enjoyed the novel experience, Culberson appreciates the skill of pitchers “who do this for a living.”
“I don’t want to downplay pitching. It’s not easy,” Culberson said. “But if I worked at it, I’m not saying I’d be as good as those guys, but I honestly wouldn’t mind at some point being a guy that can help mop up an inning or so.”
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