Porter's reliever move causes confusion
Manager brings in Sipp, then moves him to outfield
HOUSTON -- When Astros manager Bo Porter moved pitcher Tony Sipp to the outfield and brought him back to the mound after one batter last week in Arizona, it was met with curiosity. When he did it again Sunday, the curiosity was met with some confusion.
The confusion from the field stemmed from whether the Astros were going to be allowed to keep the designated hitter in their lineup, something that wasn't a concern in a National League park in Arizona.
Sipp, a lefty, relieved Jerome Williams with one out in the eighth inning and got Kevin Kiermaier, a left-handed batter, to hit into a fielder's choice to cut down a run at the plate. Sipp then moved to left field and watched right-hander Josh Zeid strike out right-handed hitter Evan Longoria. Sipp came to the mound to start the ninth and recorded two outs around a single.
Darin Downs, the only other left-hander in the Astros' bullpen, had already pitched. Williams gave up the go-ahead run earlier in the eighth in the Astros' 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I was up for whatever," Sipp said. "I'm just glad it worked out. If [Longoria] had put it in play, we have yet to see that happens in that situation. I'm pretty sure I can go out there and field the routine ones, and anything after that just go out there and pray for the best."
Before Zeid threw a pitch, the umpires huddled to go over the lineup card, speaking at length with one another and checking in with both managers.
"They were just trying to make sure everybody was on the same page, making sure once the pitcher goes to a position that the designated hitter is now out of the game and trying to figure out exactly what spot the pitcher is coming in," Porter said.
The rules state "once the game pitcher is switched from the mound to a defensive position this move shall terminate the DH role for the remainder of the game." That put Sipp in the No. 5 spot in the order in place of DH Chris Carter.
"Originally they came over to me and just said the pitcher's in the game and he's going to hit in the six-hole for [left-fielder Robbie] Grossman, and I said, 'You can't do that. The pitcher is linked to the DH,'" Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I give them a lot of credit, [crew chief] Jeff Nelson, was in charge of the whole situation. I still was not positive about how they situated the pitcher's hitting. Nevertheless, to have Carter out of the game was big."
The umpires even went to the Astros dugout to make a phone call. Porter said they were calling the scoreboard to make sure they had the correct lineup on the video board.
"They wanted to make sure the scoreboard had it right because they still had Carter in the game," Porter said.
Porter said having a right-hander like Zeid face Longoria with runners at first and third and two outs was worth sacrificing the bat of Carter, who leads the club with 13 home runs. Plus, the Astros still had feared hitters in Jose Altuve and Jon Singleton on the bench.
"You're doing it because you want to keep the game right where it is and you feel like this is your best chance," Porter said. "If you make a different move here, you may be looking at a bigger deficit than one run, whereas you feel you have the right guy on the mound who can keep it right here."
In Monday's 4-3 win at Arizona, Porter had Sipp play in right field while Williams faced Paul Goldschmidt, who walked. Sipp came back to the mound to face catcher Miguel Montero, who struck out. Sipp didn't get a ball hit to him either time.
"The last time I was warned and this time I kind of put two and two together," he said. "It's the same thing, same deal. We've got to be ready. It was no different this time, just prepare yourself on the situation. First and third with two outs, just trying to assess the situation. I figured they'd try to stay away from Longoria and not give him anything good to hit. And if he pulls it, just react."
Sipp did touch base with center fielder Dexter Fowler and right fielder George Springer for advice.
"He had me as the angel and [Springer] as the devil saying, 'Hey if you have to dive for it…' and I'm saying, 'Don't dive,'" Fowler said.
Sipp had never played a Major League inning at any position other than pitcher prior to this year, but he did play outfield while he attended Clemson University and played in left field for part of one game for Triple-A El Paso this season.
"Whatever happens, I've got to go back in and clean up whatever mess is made and I'm definitely diving," he said. "I'm still trying to protect the game. Just one of those things that happens. It's all reaction out there more than anything."