Max Scherzer was okay with, or at least submitted to, the first two checks on his hat, hands, glove, and belt, as MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances was in effect for the first time on Tuesday night, after the Washington Nationals had Monday off on the first official day of the new protocols designed to root out foreign substances that aid a pitcher’s grip.
He was less than enthusiastic about it though, and when Philadelphia Phillies’ manager Joe Girardi requested additional scrutiny in the middle of the fourth inning, it set the Nationals’ starter off.
The unfortunate events in Philadelphia on Tuesday night called the protocols for checking pitchers into question.
Girardi claimed that it was seeing Scherzer run his hands over his head repeatedly that had him thinking something was up.
“I’ve seen Max a long time, since 2010,” Girardi explained when asked about his decision to have the umps check Scherzer out. “Obviously he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. But I’ve never seen him wipe his head like he was doing tonight, ever. Going like this ... [rubs hand over head, from the forehead all the way back] ... It was suspicious for me. He did it about 4-5 times. It was suspicious. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I’ve just got to do what’s right for our club.”
Scherzer, after Washington’s 3-2 win, offered his own thoughts about what set Girardi off, acknowledging that he was getting sweat to mix with rosin, from his hair.
“The whole night I was sick of kind of licking my fingers and tasting rosin all night,” Scherzer said. “So I couldn’t even get sweat from the back of my head because it wasn’t really a warm night, so for me, the only part that was actually sweaty for me was actually my hair, so I had to take off my hat to try to get some moisture on my hand to try to mix with the rosin.”
Girardi said that though it might have seemed like it, he wasn’t playing mind games, trying to unsettle Scherzer as he was rolling on the mound in Citizens Bank Park.
“I’m not playing games. We’re trying to win games here. I’m not playing games,” Girardi said, noting that he did not have inside info or reasons for asking umps to check Scherzer, outside of what he saw from him on the mound.
On Wednesday morning, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, in his weekly visit with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, challenged that assertion from Girardi, and the idea that it wasn’t for show or to try to throw Scherzer off his game.
So Rizzo thought it was in fact just the Phillies’ skipper playing games?
“Of course he was,” Rizzo told the Junkies.
“What are we, idiots? Of course he was. It’s embarrassing for Girardi, it’s embarrassing for the Phillies, it’s embarrassing for baseball.
“Yes he’s playing games, and hey, that’s his right. Gamesmanship, it had nothing to do with substances, he had no probable cause to ask for it, the umps shouldn’t have allowed it, but it happened and you’ve got to deal with it. This is what we’re going to have to deal with, and you think you’re going to intimidate a Max Scherzer and that type of thing, it’s just not going to happen. You’re just going to piss him off and make him concentrate that much harder.
“This was about breaking Max’s rhythm and frustrating him, and that type of thing, and it didn’t work. Our bullpen pitched great, we got some timely hits, and we beat the Phillies.
“So we move on, we play them again today, so that’s good.”
Except, neither he or the Junkies were really going to move on from the topic.
If some of you bought Girardi’s explanation that he saw things that were out of the ordinary from a pitcher he knows well, Rizzo said that was the point of the comments.
“That was his goal,” the GM said. “He’s a con artist, he got you in the con, so you believe it, that’s the way it is, he’s been doing that for years on TV, and that’s just it.”
He wasn’t done.
“So,” the Junkies asked, “not a fan of Girardi?”
“No, I love Joe Girardi,” Rizzo said, contradictorily(?) Is that a word? “I’ve seen him play since he was in high school, in Peoria, Illinois, scouted him at Northwestern, I know him well, but I know him well, that’s the bottom line.”
Joe Girardi, on Mike Rizzo calling him a con artist: “I don’t have a problem with it. Obviously, he’s going to protect his club. He’s entitled to his own opinion, but so am I. That’s the bottom line. That’s America, right?”— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) June 23, 2021
Rizzo also offered his thoughts on how things could be handled differently, specifically by not allowing manager’s to add to the scrutiny when pitchers are already being watched, and checked for foreign substances regularly by umpires.
“Well, you’re not supposed to ask umpires to check unless you have probable cause to do so,” he explained, “and you know if you see a ball with some pine tar on it or something like that, that’s probable cause to check the pitcher, but you’re not supposed to be able to go and check — this is what I was told last night, you’re not supposed to be able to just randomly ask the umpires to go check the pitcher and they check him, so — this is new, this is our second day into this thing. A lot of things when they’re new, I remember when we had the COVID testing in the early days, it didn’t work well, and then MLB got it and it worked great, I think that there — we have to level the playing field for hitters and pitchers, so we’re clamping down on the substance stuff.
“These commercial adhesives that this handful of teams were using, obviously we can’t be tolerating and we can’t have it in the game.
“There has to be some middle road for players to get a grip on the baseball and not affect the performance of the ball with spin rates and that type of thing.
“I think MLB and the Players’ Association will come up with some type of answer, and until then I think as we get used to this thing and work the kinks out I think it will get better like a lot of things that we’ve implemented through baseball have once we got a little more experience with it.”
Before the second of two with the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez weighed in on the idea of not allowing managers to ask for additional scrutiny at this point, now that there is more of a focus on enforcing existing rules.
“Honestly, I would honestly welcome that,” Martinez said. “I really would. These guys are getting checked enough. For me, personally, hey, the umpires are doing their due diligence. I’m not going to go out there and oversee everything they’re doing. They’re watching everything that’s going. I watched [umpire] Alfonzo [Marquez] from second base, and I just focused on him for one inning, he did not take his eye off the pitcher, and that’s what they’re supposed to do, so I think it will be beneficial, if you’re going to let the umpires continue to do this, just let them do their job and let them check them.
“We don’t have to call timeout and go back out there and have to check again, these guys are getting checked periodically now, so why go out there and the game is slow enough, believe me. Yesterday’s game took forever, we don’t need any more stoppage time in our games.”
Game 1 ended up being 3:52. Game 2 on Wednesday, 4:19. Long, but fun.
Scherzer offered his own take on how things could be altered slightly to make it all work with less drama.
“Hopefully the players across the league understand what we’re doing right now just is not the answer,” the three-time Cy Young award-winner said. “I know there’s a lot of guys that — I feel like there’s a minority group of players here that have made it public about how they feel about pitchers and what they’re going about. And I completely understand there is a problem with Spider Tack in the game.
“And we got to get rid of that, but I also think there is a better way of — to handle this in a better way.
“We can go to more enhanced monitoring. Right now we have monitors in our clubhouses for the — mask police, that’s we have, and what I’ve articulated, one of my solutions that I feel would be best to handle this is to have those monitors, instead of worrying about our masks, to actually be checking the pitchers in-between innings. Let those guys examine what their hands look like, what substances are they using, how is this manifesting itself, and continue to monitor the situation across the game and how guys pitch and what they want to obviously use on their hands. To me that seems like a more pragmatic approach about how we can continue to monitor the situation, try to correct the situation, before going to zero.”