Leading off the ninth inning on Tuesday night, the Diamondbacks’ Jon Jay saw a slider headed toward him. He turned his back, braced himself, then trotted to first base after the pitch struck him on the calf.
This has become a common sight. Throughout his career, Jay always has been a hit-by-pitch magnet. But he’s taken it to a new level with his new team. Since joining the Diamondbacks in early June, Jay has been hit by 14 pitches, the most in the majors during that span.
Jay does not know why this keeps happening. He said he does not go to the plate looking to be hit, nor does he stand in the batter’s box with his upper body hanging dramatically over the plate. He downplays any sort of skill or toughness that one might try to associate with this ability. He just shakes his head and shrugs.
“It’s always happened,” Jay said. “It’s like guys that hit home runs or guys that do other things, it’s just always happened with me. I can’t explain it.”
It’s been a part of his game at least since 2006, his junior year at Miami, when he was plunked 23 times in 303 plate appearances. He was then hit with another 19 pitches that same year with Low-A Quad Cities, his first stop as a professional.
It has been a steady stream of bruises ever since. Jay’s 105 hit by pitches at the big-league level are tied for the second most in baseball since 2010, the year he broke into the majors. He’s needed just 243 plate appearances to reach 14 hit by pitches with the Diamondbacks, a rate higher than any other full season in his career.
“I guess that’s the scouting report – throw in on me,” Jay said. “And so I get hit a little bit more.”
Of his 14 hit by pitches this season, 11 have come with two strikes. Seven were on off-speed pitches. Eight were thrown by right-handed pitchers. As for the anatomical breakdown, he has been struck seven times in the, ahem, hindquarters, three times on the knee, and he’s taken one each off the hamstring, calf, foot and arm.
“I don’t think he’s very concerned about getting out of the way,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “That’s a pretty unique quality. A lot of times, people will see the ball coming at them and jump out of the way and not get hit by it, but he has an extra gear inside of his game that just tells him to stay put and stay grounded and let it hit you.”
The one from Tuesday night turned out to be important. Jay was behind in the count 0-2 when right-hander Cam Bedrosian’s slider clipped him, and, two batters later, he scurried home with the game-winning run in a wild, 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
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As usual, Jay came away unscathed. Of his 105 career hit by pitches, only one has necessitated a trip to the disabled list: In 2016, he was struck by a Gio Gonzalez fastball and fractured his right forearm.
“I think that’s hard to do,” said Diamondbacks infielder Daniel Descalso, who played alongside Jay for years with the St. Louis Cardinals. “The ball’s not soft. It’s going to hurt. Obviously, fastballs are going to hurt more than breaking balls, but it is something you’ve got to be careful with. You don’t want to take one on the hand or the wrist or some place where you don’t have a lot of protection and be out for a long time.”
Lovullo said Jay likes to give his teammates a hard time when they don’t follow his lead.
“I always enjoy it when he starts yelling from the dugout,” Lovullo said. “When someone jumps out of the way of a ball, he’s always encouraging them to get hit. That’s definitely a part of his game. It led to us scoring a big run yesterday and winning the game.”
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.