C.C. Sabathia and the Rotation of Starters Tossing Out Questions on Podcasts

Based on the way they have started this season, Collin McHugh, C.C. Sabathia and Trevor Williams should be in high demand for interviews. The three starting pitchers — McHugh for the Houston Astros, Sabathia for the Yankees and Williams for the Pittsburgh Pirates — had combined to make nine starts before Friday’s games, with a 2.08 E.R.A.

But McHugh, Sabathia and Williams enjoy asking questions, too. All three pitchers double as podcasters — a natural hobby, perhaps, for players who perform only once every five games.

“We have way more time,” Sabathia said on Wednesday after recording his latest episode with the bullpen coach Mike Harkey. “Plenty of time to do stuff like that.”

Sabathia and his co-host, Ryan Ruocco, a broadcaster for ESPN and the YES Network, release a new episode of “R2C2 Is Uninterrupted” every Thursday, speaking mostly with baseball, football and basketball players. Sabathia said his dream guest was the entertainer Will Smith, but lately he has settled for teammates like Gleyber Torres, J.A. Happ and James Paxton.

“It’s less of an interview, I feel like, just more of a conversation,” said Sabathia, who is also working for ESPN in his final year as a player. “You get people to relax a little more, you get better stories. People are just more comfortable in that setting.”

McHugh once kept a blog but transitioned to a new medium after listening to podcasts by the N.B.A. veteran JJ Redick of the Philadelphia 76ers, who regularly interviews players for a broadcast hosted by The Ringer.

“I’m not a huge basketball fan, but it was just the idea of hearing league insiders talk about things that maybe you’ve thought about but never were really able to know if it was true or put a real voice to it,” McHugh said. “To hear two basketball players talking about what life on the road is like, what traveling is like, all these different things and just getting to hear their voices, that made basketball more interesting to me.

“And I started thinking about: What is baseball missing? We’re missing this fan/human interaction. Everything’s getting really disconnected in terms of analytics, the fans and the players, there’s more of a gap than there’s ever been before. So what would be a way to bridge that?”

McHugh is the lone host of “The Twelve Six,” named for the curveball, which breaks from 12 to 6 on a clock face. McHugh — whose recent episode with Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle was especially compelling — combines the probing questions of a good reporter with the credibility of a fellow major leaguer, in a casual, one-on-one setting.

“As soon as you get more than one camera on a person, the honesty curve just goes way down, because guys are very reticent to say things that might be perceived the wrong way,” McHugh said. “But when it’s just two dudes sitting around, having a bottle of wine or a couple of beers and just talking, you’re way more likely to get more honest answers — which I think is a treasure, and a lot of capital in this day and age.”

As for Williams, he and his co-host, Pirates reliever Steven Brault, have recorded most of their episodes during the off-season and thrive on topics far afield: favorite candy bars, Christmas songs, Pixar movies and so on.

“Ours is more the fun side of players, reminding fans that we’re human beings, we’re not just baseball players and all we think about is baseball,” Williams said. “When we have guests on — other teammates or whoever — we first ask, ‘What are you passionate about, what’s a hobby that you have that isn’t baseball?’ So if it’s cooking: What’s your favorite food? If it’s sandwiches: What’s your favorite sandwich? Everyone has an opinion on their favorite things.”

Williams, 26, has helped lead a Pirates rotation that entered Friday’s games with a 2.09 E.R.A., easily the best in the National League. Like the Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Seaver and Don Sutton, who each started broadcasting while they were still playing, to prepare for life after baseball, Williams enjoys his current profession while planning for his next.

“Every time I’m in an interview, every time I’m in front of a TV camera, I feel like I’m trying out for my next job,” he said. “I’d love to be on TV, I’d love to do color commentary. But right now I’m a baseball player, and I’d like to do that for as long as I can.”

The ‘Westbrook of Baseball’

Everyone knew why Brad Keller drilled Tim Anderson with a fastball to the hip on Wednesday afternoon in Chicago. Anderson, the White Sox’ shortstop, had earlier homered off Keller, the Kansas City Royals’ pitcher, and flung his bat triumphantly toward his dugout as the ball sailed to the seats. Keller delivered his displeasure at 92 miles per hour, well below the head.

That should have been the end of it; Anderson did not charge the mound, and Keller’s message served only to put another runner on base for the White Sox. But the benches cleared, and the umpire Joe West ejected four people, including Keller and Anderson.

Most players do not punctuate home runs with bat flips. But if some choose to celebrate that way, Anderson said, it should be a good thing. Major League Baseball has tried recently to promote self-expression through advertising campaigns, and Anderson, 25, said younger players and fans could relate.

“We’re in a new generation, a new wave, and this is the new school,” he said in an interview Thursday morning. “I get the old-school vibe, but this is the new school. We’re going to try and switch the vibe. The kids look up to us, and if we go out and play with a lot of energy and play to have fun, I think the kids would enjoy the game a lot more.”

Anderson, who was hitting .422 through Thursday, said his reaction to the home run had nothing to do with the Royals. He was simply trying to inspire his team, which is built around young players like Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada. He cited an N.B.A. player, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, as a model for how to act while in uniform.

“I want to be the Westbrook of baseball,” Anderson said. “He goes out and plays with a high level every night and couldn’t care less what anybody else has to say. It’s really just bringing that energy and that positive vibe to the squad. That’s what I like to do, and I’m going to continue to do it. I’m not going to change.”

Anderson has a charity — Anderson’s League of Leaders — that promotes community service and youth outreach in Chicago and his hometown, Tuscaloosa, Ala. Inspired by the death of his best friend, Branden Moss, to gun violence in 2017, Anderson tries to show leadership on the field by staying true to himself, even at the cost of a fastball to the hip.

“I like to have fun,” he said, “and I’m not going to let anybody stop that.”

6,829 Times Up, One Popout to First

When the Cincinnati Reds last won the World Series, in 1990, they clinched the title on a foul popout to first base by Carney Lansford of the Oakland Athletics. Lansford was a former batting champion, but hitting a popout was no reason to be ashamed. For most players, it is routine.

Joey Votto, of course, is not like most players. Votto, the Reds’ first baseman, popped out to first base on Wednesday for the very first time in his career — in his 6,829th plate appearance. That leaves the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Alex Avila as the current leader in most career plate appearances without popping out to first, at a mere 3,285 through Thursday.

Votto, a six-time All-Star, was hitting just .228 after the popout, which came in Los Angeles against the Dodgers’ Pedro Baez. C. Trent Rosecrans, the Reds’ beat writer for The Athletic, waited for Votto for 56 minutes after the game.

Votto was not simply lingering in the lunchroom. To Votto, the popout was a sign that his technique was badly off.

“There’s a reason I just spent an hour hitting after a day game after a night game,” Votto said. “It’s not good. It’s definitely not a good thing. I rarely do that. That’s why when I saw it, I was like, ‘Ugh, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’ But I’m going to put in the work. I’m confident it’s going to come.”

One major leaguer actually hits into fewer pop-ups than Votto. According to MLB.com, Votto has popped up in 1.3 percent of his career plate appearances (almost always to the left of second base). Impressive, but not the best. Among hitters with at least 1,000 career trips to the plate, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Christian Yelich, at 1.2 percent, is the least likely to pop out.

For Votto, at least, the post-pop-out-to-first phase of his career could not have started any better. After his long practice session on Wednesday, he started Thursday’s game in San Diego with a leadoff home run.

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