Designate this! Pitchers help out at plate in NL playoffs

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Kershaw Forces Game 5, Cubs NLCS Bound


NEW YORK (AP) -- Just when they'd been designated automatic outs, pitchers are making an impact at the plate in the National League playoffs.

Clayton Kershaw singled to start a three-run rally for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jacob deGrom dropped down a flawless bunt that set up the New York Mets. And even Kyle Hendricks, overmatched in the batter's box all year, got the Chicago Cubs rolling by driving in a run with a safety squeeze against St. Louis.

After a season when pitchers hitting became a hot topic once again, several starters in October have boosted their team's offense by handling the bat with some skill.

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"Honestly, I'm just trying to be annoying," Kershaw said after helping himself during a Game 4 win over the Mets. "I didn't end up scoring, but I think that maybe got the guys going a little bit. ... So that was huge."

More pivotal at-bats from pitchers could be coming, too.

Zack Greinke, who homered twice this season and batted .328 in 2013, starts for the Dodgers on Thursday night in the deciding Game 5 of their Division Series against the Mets. He will face deGrom, a college shortstop at Stetson before moving to the mound his junior year.

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Designate this! Pitchers help out at plate in NL playoffs
Members of the Los Angeles Dodgers, left, and the New York Mets line up before the start of Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws against the New York Mets during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
New York Mets' Michael Cuddyer, left, strikes out as Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis gets hit with the ball during the second inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Members of the Los Angeles Dodgers react to their 3-1 loss against the New York Mets in Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke throws to the New York Mets during the first inning in Game 2 of baseball's National League Division Series, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Los Angeles Dodgers' Justin Turner celebrates scoring on a double by Andre Ethier against the New York Mets during the fourth inning in Game 2 of baseball's National League Division Series, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 in Los Angeles.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, goes over the top of Los Angeles Dodgers' Chase Utley who broke up a double play during the seventh inning in Game 2 of baseball's National League Division Series, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
New York Mets' Curtis Granderson, right, celebrates his three-run double with New York Mets first base coach Tom Goodwin (26) during baseball's Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
New York Mets Matt Harvey (33) delivers a pitch in Game 3 of baseballâs National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, at CitiField in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
New York Mets Yoenis Cespedes (52) tosses his bat after hitting a fourth-inning, three-run home run in baseball's Game 3 of the National League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brett Anderson (35) reacts after giving up a two-run home run to New York Mets' Travis d'Arnaud during the third inning of baseball's Game 3 of the National League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
New York Mets' Yoenis Cespedes (52) celebrates with David Wright (5) and Daniel Murphy (28) after hitting a three-run home run during the fourth inning as Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal watches them in Game 3 of baseballâs National League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, at CitiField in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets during game four of the National League Division Series at Citi Field on October 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: Steven Matz #32 and David Wright #5 of the New York Mets react after giving up a run in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the National League Division Series at Citi Field on October 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: Adrian Gonzalez #23 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a a single to center field to score Enrique Hernandez #14 in the third inning against Steven Matz #32 of the New York Mets during game four of the National League Division Series at Citi Field on October 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: Steven Matz #32 of the New York Mets attempts to throw out Enrique Hernandez #14 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning during game four of the National League Division Series at Citi Field on October 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen, left, greets Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis (17) after the Dodgers beat the New York Mets 3-1 in baseball's Game 4 of the National League Division Series, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom works against a Los Angeles Dodgers batter during the first inning in Game 5 of baseball's National League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier catches a ball hit by the New York Mets' Michael Conforto during the second inning in Game 5 of baseball's National League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
New York Mets first baseman Lucas Duda leaps off first base to grab the throw to first as Los Angeles Dodgers' Howie Kendrick (47) arrives safely during the second inning in Game 5 of baseball's National League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
New York Mets' Daniel Murphy watches his solo home run during the sixth inning in Game 5 of baseball's National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
New York Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia celebrates a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of baseball's National League Division Series, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, above right, catcher Travis d'Arnaud, left, and other Mets players celebrate a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of baseball's National League Division Series on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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A perfectly placed sacrifice from deGrom advanced two slow runners in the series opener, leading to David Wright's two-run single in the seventh inning of a 3-1 victory at Los Angeles.

"We've tried to preach for five years here that the job of a pitcher is to be an athlete, to be a baseball player, not just be a pitcher," Mets manager Terry Collins said last month. "I think they've done a tremendous job. We hit every day, they handle the bats very, very well, and I think it's made a big difference in our offense."

Hendricks and the Cubs await the Mets-Dodgers winner in the NL Championship Series, where Chicago pitchers could be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to hitting acumen - even though manager Joe Maddon frequently bats his starter eighth.

Chicago hurlers ranked 14th out of 15 NL teams in batting average (.114) this season and last in sacrifice bunts (17). They were 10th in OPS at .313, according to STATS.

Hendricks was among those dragging down the numbers. He went 3 for 60 (.050) with 24 strikeouts, while Jon Lester finished 4 for 62 (.065) and whiffed 30 times. Lester did manage his first major league hit in July after 66 fruitless at-bats - plus five more in the World Series.

On the plus side, ace Jake Arrieta hit two home runs and nearly had another. He also struck out 45 times in 79 at-bats.

How much effect that might actually have in the NLCS remains to be seen. But it's worth noting the Mets and Dodgers have a handful of pitchers who are pretty capable at the plate.

Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard homered this year for New York, which topped the NL in hits (52) and RBIs (28) by pitchers while finishing second in OPS (.388). Even beefy 42-year-old Bartolo Colon joined in the fun, setting career highs with eight hits and four RBIs, his large helmet often falling off his head on a hefty cut to the delight of fans and teammates.

"It's always an entertaining at-bat to watch," Mets lefty Jonathon Niese said.

Los Angeles was fifth in OPS (.335) and sacrifice bunts (34), STATS said.

Early in the season, after Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright injured his Achilles while batting, Washington newcomer Max Scherzer called for the National League to adopt the designated hitter just like the AL.

San Francisco star Madison Bumgarner, who has nine homers over the last two years, quickly took exception to that.

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Designate this! Pitchers help out at plate in NL playoffs
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Fans celebrate at the intersection of Clark Street and Addison Street outside of Wrigley Field after the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Four to win the National League Divisional Series on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: David Lee Cook listens outside a bar across from Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the NLDS championship series at the park on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs lead the series 2-1. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Police ride by Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the NLDS championship series at the park on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs lead the series 2-1. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Sergio Arzate listens to the game while sitting on the sidewalk across from Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the NLDS championship series at the park on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs lead the series 2-1. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 in game four of the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Fans celebrate in the Cubby Bear after the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Four to win the National League Divisional Series on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Fans celebrate outside Wrigley Field after the Chicago Cubs defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to win the division championship series on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs now advance to the National League Championship Series. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The St. Louis Cardinals' Jon Jay slams his helmet on the ground as Stephen Piscotty strikes out to end the game against the Chicago Cubs in Game 4 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. The Cubs won, 6-4, to eliminate the Cards. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Fans celebrate outside Wrigley Field after the Chicago Cubs defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to win the division championship series on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs now advance to the National League Championship Series. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates on field with fans after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 in Game 4 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 in Chicago , Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Fans celebrate outside Wrigley Field after the Chicago Cubs defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to win the division championship series on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs now advance to the National League Championship Series. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Chicago Cubs fans celebrate after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 in Game 4 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 in Chicago , Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Anthony Rizzo #44 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates with fans after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the National League Division Series to win the NLDS 3-1 at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals with a score of 6 to 4. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates with fans after the Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the National League Division Series to win the NLDS 3-1 at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals with a score of 6 to 4. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Fans celebrate outside of Wrigley Field after the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Four to win the National League Divisional Series on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Fans celebrate at the Cubby Bear after the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Four to win the National League Divisional Series on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Fans gather on the streets outside of Wrigley Field after the Cubs won 6-4 in Game 4 in baseball's National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Fans celebrate the second out of the ninth inning of the Game Four of the National League Divisional Series between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals while watching the game at the Cubby Bear on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Chicago Cubs fan Priscilla Huch of Chicago smiles while talking with St. Louis Cardinals fan Anthony Skelly of Aurora, Illinios, while watching Game Four of the National League Divisional Series between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals at the Cubby Bear on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: Fans react to a play in the eighth inning while watching Game Four of the National League Divisional Series between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals at the Cubby Bear at the Cubby Bear on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13: A detailed view of the shirt of a Chicago Cubs fan prior to game four of the National League Division Series between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Then in September, Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka strained his hamstring running to first on a bunt, and the debate resumed.

But for the Mets, having a rotation that could hit was a legitimate help to their offense - especially when they were struggling so badly to score before Yoenis Cespedes and other dangerous bats were added in late July.

Collins credits first-year assistant batting coach Pat Roessler, who was put in charge of the pitchers hitting. He ramped up the workload with daily repetition, more velocity and tougher breaking balls during batting practice.

All that persistence paid off for Mets pitchers, who were a major league-record 0 for 64 at the plate last year before deGrom singled in his first career at-bat.

This season, a confident Collins even played hit-and-run with certain pitchers in the box, including deGrom and Niese.

"The guys work at it," Roessler said. "They work on hit-and-runs and moving runners and gettin' guys in from third, and they've taken a lot of pride in it."

TOP 25 MLB PLAYOFF HEROES OF THE LAST 25 YEARS:

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Top 25 MLB playoff heroes of the last 25 years
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Designate this! Pitchers help out at plate in NL playoffs

25. Jack Morris, Minnesota Twins (1991)

(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

24. Kirby Puckett, Minnesota Twins (1991)

(Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

23. Troy Glaus, Anaheim Angels (2002)

(Photo by Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

22. David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals (2011)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

21. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies (2010)

(Photo by: Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)

20. Hideki Matsui, New York Yankees (2009)

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

19. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals (2004-06, 2011)

(Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

18. Dave Roberts, Boston Red Sox (2004)

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

17. Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox (2004, 2007)

(Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

16. Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians (2016)

(Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

15. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks (2001)

(Jed Jacobsohn/ALLSPORT)

14. Edgar Renteria, Florida Marlins (1997)

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

13. Aaron Boone, New York Yankees (2003)

(Photo by Allen Kee/WireImage)

12. Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros (2004)

(Photo By Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

11. Josh Beckett, Florida Marlins (2003)

(Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

10. Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants (2002)

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

9. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants (2012, 2014)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

8. Luis Gonzalex, Arizona Diamondbacks (2001)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

7. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (2014)

(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

6. Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees (1998-2003)

(JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)

5. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (2004, 2007, 2013)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

4. Joe Carter, Toronto Blue Jays (1993)

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

3. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees (1996-2006, 2009-2012)

Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

2. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees (1996-2007, 2009-2011)

(Todd Warshaw via Getty Images)

1. Curt Schilling, Arizona Diamondbacks & Boston Red Sox (2001, 2004)

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

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