Former San Francisco Giants prospect Zack Wheeler hit Hunter Pence in the ribs with a 94-mph fastball yesterday. Unlike those instances when a batter gets hit on an 0-2 breaking pitch, this was a drilling that certainly looked intentional.
Pence walked in his first at-bat, and he came up to bat to lead off the third inning against Wheeler. Pence took two curveballs out of the zone, then fouled off a fastball. Thats’s when Wheeler sent one right towards Pence’s midsection, a rising fastball that Pence had no prayer of dodging.
Pence usually sprints to first base without as much as a glance toward the mound after getting hit by a pitch, but this time was a little different. He took a couple steps toward the mound on his way to first (although he could’ve been trying to regain his balance after absorbing a direct hit from a pitcher who throws awfully hard). Pence said a couple things to Wheeler as he ran to first, but that was all.
During Monday night’s game against the Washington Nationals, Mike Krukow made some interesting remarks about the pitch that hit Pence and a possible motive.
(Thanks to @LOLKNBR for transcribing this, since I’m in L.A. for the next few days and don’t have DVR access.)
[Pence makes his way to the plate with one out in the third inning against Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals]
Duane Kuiper: “Pence got hit by Wheeler yesterday.”
[CSN Bay Area shows replay of Wheeler plunking Pence in the ribs]
Krukow: “I mean this REALLY surprised him. This is a leadoff hitter (to start the third inning), and it just didn’t make any sense. And what the Giants think is that there was a swing that Hunter Pence took, normal Hunter Pence style — swung hard — too hard in the eyes of Zack Wheeler, which is why he drilled him. In the Giants’ minds, it was absolutely 100% intentional. So stay tuned for that story, because when a team feels that way, it certainly is not over.”
It’s unclear whether Pence swung “too hard” at the pitch he fouled back, a warmup swing between pitches, or maybe even during the ninth inning double on Saturday night that drove in Angel Pagan.
Jon Miller brought up the play during his pregame interview with Bruce Bochy, too. While the Giants manager didn’t supply a motive, he didn’t mince words either.
“Well, it didn’t look good, believe me. We were upset about it. The whole bench is screaming. These things have a way of taking care of themselves. But I will say Pence came in and says, ‘I’m fine, let’s just win the game.’ He plays the game the way it should be played. And a lot of guys might have come out of that game. This is how tough this guy is. Today he’s fine,” Bochy said.
“But it just looked like a cheap shot, if you’re going to be honest about it. You hate to see that, especially with a guy like Pence who plays the game right, a very humble guy that never shows up anybody.”
Wheeler is no stranger to controversial HBPs, as reported by the New York Dailey News on Mar. 29, 2013:
Zack Wheeler, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, was reprimanded last weekend along with teammate Aderlin Rodriguez for an on-field incident that led to ethnic tensions in the Mets’ minor league clubhouse, according to organizational sources.
In a minor league intrasquad game last Saturday, Rodriguez, a 21-year-old infielder from the Dominican Republic, homered against Wheeler, 22, and “pimped it” around the bases, as one witness described it. Rodriguez apologized to Wheeler, but the phenom still hit Rodriguez’s teammate with a pitch later in the game. That drew a long glare from Rodriguez, who shouted at Wheeler during a slow walk to first base. At one point, the home plate umpire stepped between the two prospects.
Later, ethnic tensions arose in the clubhouse, according to two people present at the time. “Some of the American guys and some of the Latin guys were circling and yelling at each other,” one source said. The same source added that Wheeler and Rodriguez “are both great kids, competitors, and this stuff just happens sometimes.”