- Only one other position player since the turn of the century has made as many appearances on the mound as Chris Gimenez—and we're not even a third of the way into the season.
The season hasn't reached the one-third mark, but Chris Gimenez has already joined an exclusive club. On Wednesday at Target Field, the Twins' backup catcher became just the sixth position player since 1969 and the second of the millennium to make at least three mound appearances in a single season.
As with his other two pitching appearances this year, the 34-year-old Gimenez was pressed into duty when the Twins were in the midst of getting blown out. They trailed the Astros 6-5 through six innings but then allowed six in the seventh and then three more in the eighth, scoring just once themselves. Rather than deploy his fifth reliever of the game—the other four had combined to allow nine runs (eight earned)—manager Paul Molitor turned to Gimenez.
Working exclusively with a "fastball" that averaged 70.4 mph according to Brooks Baseball, Gimenez induced Carlos Correa to ground out, then surrendered a single to Evan Gattis and a homer to Marwin Gonzalez, the Astros' sixth longball of the day. He recovered to get Yuliesky Gurriel to fly out and then Alex Bregman to pop out. It wasn't pretty, but the rest of the bullpen—which now has a major league worst 5.33 ERA—didn't cover itself in glory either. Here's a quick clip of the outs.
In all, Gimenez threw 15 pitches, nine for strikes, but he didn't get any swings and misses. His fastest pitch, 81.4 mph, was fouled off by Gonzalez immediately prior to the homer. The two hits he allowed were actually the first batters he failed to retire this year. On April 23 against the Tigers, he retired Andrew Romine, the only batter he faced, while on May 6 against the Red Sox, he got Xander Bogaerts to line out and then Andrew Benintendi to fly out.
Gimenez, who has hit just .167/.308/.278 in 65 plate appearances this year, has caught, played first base and third base (the latter for an inning) for the Twins; elsewhere in his nine-year career, he's manned the outfield corners as well. He made his first major league pitching appearance on July 10, 2014, when he pitched a 1-2-3 inning for the Rangers against the Angels in a 15-6 loss, striking out C.J. Cron, his only whiff thus far. He made two appearances last year, allowing four runs in two innings pitched against the Blue Jays in a 17-1 loss on July 3 and then throwing a scoreless frame against the Rangers in a 7-0 game on August 27.
With his third appearance, Gimenez joined the Blue Jays' Bob Bailor (1980), the Expos' Vance Law (in both 1986 and '87), the Braves' Jim Morrison (1988), the Cubs' Doug Dascenzo (1991) and the Red Sox's Dave McCarty (2004) in the three-appearance club. That count doesn't include a pair of position-to-pitching converts, namely Brooks Kieschnick nor Christian Bethancourt. Both made only token appearances in the field after making the switch.
Kieschnick played 47 games in the outfield and two at first base for the Cubs and Rockies from 1996-2001, then made 74 pitching appearances for the Brewers in 2003-04, putting up a 4.59 ERA (95 ERA+) in 96 innings. He took four turns at DH and three in leftfield in the earlier of those two seasons, and pinch-hit 71 times over that span; his .286/.340/.496 line (115 OPS+) was very respectable.
Bethancourt, who from 2014-16 caught 114 games, played the outfield for 12 more and made a token appearance at second base while hitting just .222/.252/.316, opened the Padres’ eyes by topping 95 mph in a pair of mop-up mound appearances last year. The Padres had him pitch in the Panama Winter League and then in spring training with an eye towards making him a superduperutilityman, but the attempt has hit a snag. He retired just 11 of the 25 batters he faced, walking eight and allowing nine runs (six earned) in 3 2/3 innings before being outrighted to Triple-A El Paso, where he's been lit for a 12.54 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. Before being sent down, he had just one-third of an inning at second base to go with five pinch-hitting appearances and four games pitched.
Not counting Gimenez or Bethancourt, six other position players have taken the mound this year, namely the Indians' Michael Martinez (April 13 against the White Sox), the Padres' Erick Aybar (April 18 against the Diamondbacks), the Mets' Kevin Plawecki (April 30 against the Nationals), the Cubs' Miguel Montero (May 6 against the Yankees), the Padres' Luis Sardinas (May 19 against the Diamondbacks) and the Mariners' Mike Freeman (May 20 against the White Sox). Such appearances have become increasingly prevalent. Last year, position players (including Gimenez and Bethancourt) made 26 appearances on the mound, after 27 in 2015 and 22 in 2014, the first time since 2001 that they topped 20 in a season.