PHOENIX — Brandon Nimmo is among the majors’ leaders in hit-by-pitches, and he’s got the evolving arm topography to prove it.
He lifted his right sleeve early this week to reveal a black and blue bump, courtesy of the Yankees’ Domingo German. Immediately next to it wasn’t so much a bruise as it was a burn, starting to scab over, the result of an Aroldis Chapman fastball. Nimmo considered himself fortunate.
“Grazed my tricep,” Nimmo said. “That’s the absolute best way you want to get hit by Chapman.”
Nimmo has turned the HBP this season from something that occasionally happens during any game to a tangible, valuable part of his game. His 10 HBPs heading into the Mets’ series with the Diamondbacks starting Thursday were tied with Kris Bryant of the Cubs for the most in the NL and tied with Seattle’s Nelson Cruz for second most in the majors. Tampa Bay’s C.J. Chron, with three plunkings this week, jumped out with 13. And Nimmo’s have occurred in only 187 plate appearances, about 50-100 fewer than his co-leaders.
Taking one for the team has an individual payoff, too. Nimmo — who on Thursday night hit a pitch instead of being hit by one in his first at-bat, a solo homer to give the Mets a 1-0 lead in Arizona — has been hit by a pitch in 5.3 percent of his plate appearances, which is about how often Asdrubal Cabrera walks. Without the HBPs, Nimmo’s .406 OBP — which ranks fifth among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances — would be .353, still pretty good but far from the high-end numbers he has posted so far.
That’s a dramatic increase from what Nimmo had done before this season. In 2016-17, Nimmo was hit just 1 percent of the time (thrice in 295 PAs). In the minors, 1.4 percent.
This is his new normal.
“You’re going to see that probably continue,” Nimmo said.
Why? Two reasons, he said.
First, teams pitch him inside, an approach they developed about two weeks into his major-league career, when they realized he can hit the ball to the opposite field. “Then they said, ‘OK, let’s test another side of the plate,’ ” Nimmo said. “They would rather miss in than out over the plate.”
Second, last August Nimmo squared up his batting stance and moved closer to the plate, leaving opposing pitchers less margin for error when they pitch inside.
Nimmo’s new proclivity to get clipped was spotlighted this week when Atlanta’s Jesse Biddle caught him with a curveball. Home plate umpire Stu Scheurwater ruled that Nimmo leaned into it, however, and did not award him first base. Manager Mickey Callaway came out to argue and was quickly ejected.
Standing there and taking it is how Nimmo learned to play, he said. It’s a way to get on base.
“I’m not trying to get hit or anything,” Nimmo said. “It’s a product of how they’re pitching.”
It helps that when he gets hit on the elbow, it barely hurts thanks to a heavy-duty pad he has worn for years.
Nimmo adopted the elbow pad as a 19-year-old playing for Brooklyn in 2012. He learned his lesson when he got hit square on his bare elbow and it messed up his forearm for weeks, necessitating a daily pregame massage to reduce the considerable swelling.
“They used to have to milk it,” Nimmo said. “I would hold my arm up and it would hurt so bad. They did that for two, three weeks. And I said, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’ I put that pad on.”
Another change Nimmo — a skinny kid from Wyoming when the Mets drafted him in 2011 — made around the same time: adding muscle.
“That’s honestly part of the reason why I weightlifted so much when I was in the beginning of pro ball, because I got hit a couple of times and I was out for a week because I was skin and bone,” Nimmo said. “Every time I got hit, it was hitting bone. I needed to beef up to be able to take pitches better.”
Now Nimmo is swole, not swollen, and sprinting to first after getting hit.
“It hurts a little bit, but then I’m on base,” Nimmo said. “And I’m happy.”