A bevy of new rules came to major league baseball this offseason that have generated a lot of interest. Between the bigger bases, the restrictions on defensive shifts, and the pitch timer, MLB games look a lot different this season.
Some would argue the new rules saved the game.
One rule change that has not received the same attention is the limitation on position players taking to the mound. Last season saw 132 appearances from position players on the bump, not including Shohei Ohtani. Under last season’s rules, position players could only pitch when the teams were separated by six runs.
The Competition Committee unanimously approved changes to that rule for the 2023 MLB season. This year, a position player can pitch for the leading team only when they are leading by ten runs or more in the ninth inning. Losing teams can turn to a position player anytime, provided they are down by eight runs or more.
This change should cut down on the number of times we see a position player on the bump, which used to be a fun novelty but the joy has worn off those moments the past few seasons.
However, Monday night restored a bit of that novelty.
Down in Arlington, the Texas Rangers were hosting the Kansas City Royals. Thanks to a seven-run sixth inning, the Rangers took an 11-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. That’s when Royals manager Matt Quatraro turned to second baseman Nate Eaton to pitch in the eighth.
How did Eaton fare?
Eaton pitched a scoreless eighth inning, despite allowing a pair of singles. He got outfielder Travis Jankowski to ground out to start the inning, and after singles from Ezequiel Duran and Corey Seager put runners on first and second, Eaton got the second out of the inning when Brad Miller lined out to left.
That’s when outfielder Adolis Garcia came to the plate, and Eaton started to bring the heat. The infielder managed to strike Garcia out after falling into a 3-1 hole in the count, and he got the strikeout by pushing into the 90s with his fastball:
Perhaps this relief stint should not have been a surprise. The Royals drafted Eaton in the 21st round of the 2018 MLB draft, and at the time of the pick, they viewed him as perhaps a catcher, a position he did not play in college at VMI but did play in high school.
As Eaton worked his way through low Class A, he saw time in the outfield as well as the infield.
But while he never worked behind the plate in college, he did pitch during his time at VMI. During 2017 in the summer college Coastal Plain League, he recorded four saves with a 1.26 ERA, while striking out 16 and allowing just six hits in 14.1 innings. During the 2017 season for VMI he made 17 pitching appearances, posting a 4.44 ERA and holding batters to a batting average of just .212. Some teams were even scouting him as a potential pitching prospect during the 2018 MLB draft.
With this kind of debut on the bump, we should not be surprised to see him back on the mound sooner rather than later.