What is a DH in Baseball? – Designated Hitter Explained


Written by

Michael Rogers



Leo Hagenes

what is a dh in baseball

Baseball has terms and positions that can be a bit perplexing for newcomers and even seasoned fans. One such term that has caused its fair share of confusion is “DH” or designated hitter.

What is a DH in baseball? If you’ve ever wondered what a DH in baseball is and what role they play, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll break down the designated hitter rule, who can be a DH, the importance of the DH, and more.

Designated Hitter Rule


The designated hitter (DH) is a remarkable position in baseball, authorized by Major League Baseball Rule 5.11. It was first instituted by the American League in 1973 and later embraced by the National League in 2022, making it a universal rule in MLB.

What does a DH do? The DH is primarily used to replace the pitcher in the batting order. There are specific rules and regulations associated with this role as follows:

  1. DH Rule: A player can bat for the pitcher and doesn’t play defense.
  2. Pre-Game Selection: DH must be chosen before the game commences.
  3. Plate Appearance: DH requires at least one plate impression unless the opponent changes pitchers.
  4. No DH Selection: If no DH is chosen at the start, it’s not permitted for that game.
  5. Substitution: If a player substitutes the DH, they become the DH.
  6. Defensive Role: DH turned defender still bats in their assigned spot.
  7. Pitcher as DH: Once a pitcher enters, no more DH for that game.
  8. Pitcher’s Switch: If the pitcher takes another position, DH is gone.
  9. Pinch-Hit & Pitch: Pinch-hitting pitcher terminates the DH option.
  10. Pitcher Pinch-Hits: Pitcher pinch-hitting means no DH for the game.

The use of DH in MLB by season and event over the years

Season(s) National League American League World Series All-Star Game
Before 1973 No No No No
1974-2017 No Yes No No
2018-2021 No Yes No Yes
2020, 2022-present Yes Yes Yes Yes

Who Can Be a DH?


The National League designated hitter (DH) is a player who does not take a defensive position on the field.

Instead, they step in to bat instead of the pitcher. However, there is an interesting exception: a starting pitcher (but never relievers) may choose to also serve as the designated hitter. This means that the pitcher can both pitch and bat at the same time.

Teams may choose to use a designated hitter (DH) in place of their pitcher, but they must decide before the game starts. If a team does not use a DH, their pitchers (or pinch hitters) will have to bat for themselves throughout the game.

In other words, teams can choose a player who only bats and does not play the field in place of their pitcher. However, they must make this decision before the game starts. If they do not choose to use a DH, their pitchers will have to bat for themselves like any other player.

DH Substitution Rule


The DH substitution rule allows teams to replace the designated hitter (DH) during a game. Initially, one player is designated as the DH in the batting order, but this player can be substituted later in the game.

Substitutions can occur on offense (as pinch hitters or pinch runners) or on defense. However, the player listed as the DH in the starting lineup must have at least one plate appearance before being substituted, except for two specific scenarios:

  1. If the DH is injured or ejected, another player can be subbed in.
  2. If the opposing team changes their starting pitcher before the DH has his first at-bat, a legal substitution at the DH position is allowed.

The Importance of the DH


The DH in National League plays a crucial role in baseball, especially when enhancing a team’s offensive capabilities. Here are some key reasons why the DH is significant:

  1. The DH reduces the risk of injury to pitchers.
  2. Having pitchers bat can result in strikeouts or double plays, which can be detrimental to the flow and excitement of the game. The DH rule can preserve the beauty of baseball and maintain offensive prowess.

The universal DH rule provides American League managers with strategic options when setting their team’s line-ups.

Can a Designated Hitter Play the Field?


As one of the MLB DH rules, the designated hitter cannot play a defensive baseball position in Major League Baseball and most professional leagues. However, the NCAA and high school baseball have slightly different rules.

  1. NCAA: Starting pitchers can remain in the game as DH after being removed from the mound.
  2. High school: Designated hitters can bat for defensive players and even play on the field without losing their DH position.

In other words, NCAA rules allow a starting pitcher to continue hitting in the lineup even after they are pulled from the game to pitch. They become the designated hitter, who is a player who bats in place of the pitcher.


The designated hitter, or DH, is a distinctive position in baseball designed to enhance offensive production and reduce the risk of injuries to pitchers.

While it is optional, its use is widespread in professional baseball leagues. The introduction of the DH in the National League in 2022 marked a significant change in MLB, aligning both leagues with this universal rule.

Understanding the DH role and its importance in baseball rules can help fans appreciate the nuances of the game and the strategic decisions made by managers, providing a comprehensive answer to the question: “What is a DH in baseball?”

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