Marlins righty Jose Urena was the talk of the league last night, although not for reasons the organization would prefer. Urena was ejected after hitting red-hot Ronald Acuna on the elbow with a 97.5mph fastball — the hardest pitch he’s ever thrown, per Statcast — on the game’s first pitch. Acuna had led off three consecutive games with a home run. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan was among the many pundits who’ve excoriated Urena for his actions, calling them “cowardly” and imploring Major League Baseball to issue a suspension longer than the standard five games for Urena.
Intent, of course, is difficult to prove. However, it’s perhaps telling that Miami manager Don Mattingly seemed to acknowledge some disappointment in his right-hander. Via MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro:
“What we said with Jose is, ’I don’t want to see this kid get hit.’ He’s a great player,” said Mattingly of his talk with Urena after the ejection. “…For us, he’s beat us up, but this is not the way we want to handle that situation. Obviously, this is not something that we represent or believe in as an organization or myself, too. I would never want that kid getting hit and cause that kind of problem.”
Mattingly did tell reporters that Urena claimed to have only been trying to run a pitch inside on Acuna rather than hit him (per the Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer, whose column also has quotes from Urena), but the manager also spoke on multiple occasions about the need for Marlins players to be cognizant of how the organization wants to be represented moving forward.
Frankly, it’s difficult to side with or defend Urena. There’s a difference between throwing inside and uncoiling at max velocity with an intent to hit a batter, and it appears that Urena chose to do the latter in response to Acuna’s torrid series at the plate. There will always be traditionalists who extol the game’s “unwritten” (and outdated) rules and point to the fact that these incidents have been a part of baseball for decades. But “that’s the way it’s always been done” isn’t a good defense in most walks of life, and the game has clearly evolved.
Urena’s actions didn’t help his team; to the contrary, an already-overtaxed Marlins bullpen had to cover a complete game upon his ejection, and the Braves went on to complete a four-game sweep while Urena watched from the sidelines. And to those who might think that Urena’s teammates appreciate him making a statement, the Marlins’ best player, J.T. Realmuto, said after the game (via Frisaro) that hitting Acuna “worked out terrible for our team.” Realmuto pointed to Miami’s overworked relief corps and plainly suggested that the team could’ve used six or seven innings out of Urena.
Initial x-rays on Acuna, meanwhile, were thankfully negative (Twitter link via Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), but he’s still set to undergo a CT scan to further clarify the status of his elbow. Even if he avoids major injury, though, it seems quite likely that the league will bring forth a suspension against Urena, in accordance with previous situations where the intent of the pitcher has been fairly plain to see.
A five-game ban for a starting pitcher has been standard operating procedure in these instances, though it’s clear that such punishments haven’t completely dissuaded pitchers from intentionally plunking opponents. Perhaps they never will, but there’s an argument to be made that steeper penalties ought to be put into place in an effort to at least lessen the likelihood of a recurrence. Even if Acuna is back in the lineup tonight, he’ll be in there after perhaps avoiding a serious injury by a matter of millimeters. Should it really take a serious injury to one of MLB’s most exciting young players to invoke change, or have we reached the point where a more proactive approach should be taken? (Link to poll for Trade Rumors app users)