Here's some food for thought as the Cubs begin their first interleague series tonight, with their first use of the designated hitter in 2010.
Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies has been -- so far -- the best pitcher in the major leagues this year, and last night, if not for a infield bouncer in the third inning that wound up as a hit, might have gone into the seventh inning with a shot at his second no-hitter of the season.
And it's not even Memorial Day yet.
If a pitcher this dominant were a Cub, you wouldn't want him injured, right?
During last night's start in Houston, on a hot and humid night with the roof open, Jimenez's leg started to cramp up ... because of something that happened while he was hitting:
Jimenez held the Astros to one broken-bat dribbler hit in seven innings of a 4-0 victory. But he suffered cramping in his left hamstring while running out an infield bouncer in the top of the seventh. He cramped in his right hip while retiring Lance Berkman to open the bottom of the seventh.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy and their trainer had to go out and talk to Jimenez twice in the seventh inning, twice being told by him, "I'm all right", before he was finally pulled as a precaution.
Now, Jimenez is probably fine -- but what if this "cramping" were a pulled hamstring? What if Jimenez then has to go on the DL and misses two weeks or more?
Something very similar happened to Carlos Zambrano last year and he missed several weeks. Jake Peavy hurt himself running the bases in a game last May vs. the Cubs. Chien-Ming Wang, same thing in 2008 -- and many feel that the foot injury Wang suffered while batting helped lead to his shoulder problems. Wang, who was one of the best pitchers in the American League in 2006 and 2007, wasn't the same pitcher after returning from this injury in 2009. He signed with the Nationals this year, but is currently on the 60-day DL.
There are millions of dollars invested in pitchers like this, including Jimenez, who is signed through 2012 with a couple of relatively inexpensive (for today's market) club options for 2013 and 2014. And teams don't want investments like this injured while doing something that isn't their primary responsibility -- batting or running the bases.
This is why the designated hitter is, I believe, almost certain to come to the National League, probably by 2012. It will undoubtedly be a bargaining chip in the next labor negotiation -- the current agreement expires on December 11, 2011.
I'm not a big fan of the DH. I like the strategy involved with a pitcher in the lineup -- that is, when the Cubs manager, be it Dusty Baker or Lou Piniella, remembers how to use double-switches properly. But the DH has been part of baseball now for 38 seasons. It is used in every professional league except the National League. In the last ten years or so, it has helped make the American League dominant in both interleague play and the World Series.
It's coming. I think it's necessary, if for no other reasons than to protect multimillion dollar investments and to level the playing field between leagues.
And one more thing. If the NL does in fact adopt the DH at the start of the 2012 season, it will make the last three years of Alfonso Soriano's contract more worthwhile -- as he can serve that role and not have to play the field any more.