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La Russa upset with players being hit, but says retaliation may be too risky

Arizona Diamondbacks' Nick Ahmed , left, is checked by a team trainer as third base coach Matt Williams, (9) and manager Chip Hale (3) look on after being hit by a pitch from Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Arquimedes Caminero in the eighth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 24, 2016. The Pirates won 12-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
LISTEN: Tony La Russa, Diamondbacks chief baseball officer

Is it happening again?

Maybe.

Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, a pair of Diamondbacks hitters — Jean Segura and Nick Ahmed — got plunked in the helmet by Pirates reliever Arquimedes Caminero.

Segura was hit in the seventh inning while Ahmed was drilled in the eighth. In between those two beanings, D-backs reliever Evan Marshall hit Pittsburgh’s David Freese.

No benches cleared and no heated words were exchanged between the teams, but it is worth noting that Caminero was tossed from the game after hitting Ahmed due to the fact that the teams were issued warnings by home plate umpire Larry Vanover.

Now, it’s possible this will be the end of it, and the next two games between the teams will go on without incident.

Then again, it’s also possible this is just the beginning, with perhaps some bad blood spilling over from the 2014 campaign, when a Pittsburgh pitch ended Paul Goldschmidt’s season and a couple days later, the D-backs exacted some revenge by hitting Pirates star Andrew McCutchen in the back.

A guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday morning, D-backs Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa said the idea that the concept of retaliation has changed over the years.

“It’s not the problem it was because Major League Baseball has been so proactive,” he said. “They’re going to call from New York and they’re going to let the umpire alert (Pirates manager Clint) Hurdle, they’re going to alert Chip (Hale), hey, no funny business.

“And so the risk of doing something by way of an intentional act could be really painful in terms of days lost and money lost.”

At the same time, La Russa noted that there is a certain level of heart that goes into the game, and failure to stick up for a teammate could have a negative affect.

“Intimidation is an important part of sports; people will try to intimidate you, if you back off you’re easier to beat,” he said. “The game has a way of handling itself.”

La Russa, who won three World Series titles as a manager, said the way he handled situations like this was to put all the responsibility of whether or not to retaliate on himself. That way, if a batter did not think he was being protected by a pitcher, they could be mad at him, while the pitcher would know his job is simply to get outs unless told otherwise.

“It’s a tremendous responsibility, probably the worst one I had as far as painful and difficult,” he said. “For anybody to say that you’re going to sit there and watch — you know, Segura, now, the guy Martinez threw a ball behind him; Drury is hitting .300, he’s had a couple balls at his face the last homestand.

“You’re going to sit there and say, ‘well, they can’t do anything,’ well, they’ll just keep doing it to you, (and) pretty soon the guy the guy will not want to go to bat, and how do you win? So you’ve got to use common sense. It’s a competition and guys are going to anything they can to take something away from you.”

La Russa added teammates should be treated like family, in that if someone abuses your family, “you just slap back.”

Does that mean we should expect some more fireworks over the next two days, which, barring the playoffs, happen to be the final times the teams will match up this season?

“In actuality, because of Major League Baseball scrutiny, the next two days are probably the easiest days to play, two teams that had a little scuffle, because they’ll be scrutinizing it so carefully that you better just play baseball,” he said.

Whether or not the D-backs end up hitting some Pirates batters — intentionally or otherwise — La Russa is upset with how often the Pirates manage to run pitches too far inside. In 2013, Pittsburgh led all of baseball with 70 HBP, and in 2014 the Pirates by far paced MLB with 88; 2015 saw them finish with 75 — which also placed them first — and so far this season they are tied for fifth in baseball with 19 HBP.

In contrast, the Diamondbacks have hit 18 batters so far this season.

“I think the Pirates, when they hit Goldy, they broke his hand, and we hit McCutchen in the ribs and he played the next day; Goldy was out,” La Russa said. “And in fact, they hit Aaron Hill in ’14, so they’ve been hit about 30 times themselves.

“So people are just telling them hey, you can’t just willy nilly throw the ball inside. It’s a real easy formula we’ve used for years: you can’t use us as targets, even if it’s unintentional. If you can’t command the ball inside, don’t throw it up and in — you’ve got to get the ball down. It’s really not that tough, it’s one that we try to enforce, and it’s one I think MLB could be more proactive in enforcing.”

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