What’s Happening in Baseball Today

The First Pitch: June 16, 2021

Back on March 24, MLB said it would crack down on pitchers using foreign substances that increase spin rate and make life tougher for hitters. Pitchers would be subject to fines or suspensions, as would be their coaches and managers if they were found to be acting as accomplices. 

But then the season began, pitchers dominated at a level not seen since 1968’s “Year of the Pitcher” campaign, with overall batting averages mired in the .230s while strikeouts easily outpaced hits. MLB’s March threat seemed like a lost memo, as the league’s “gameday compliance monitors” supposedly enforcing the clampdown where nowhere to be found; meanwhile, pitchers yawned and played on undeterred, all while there was ample, broad-daylight evidence that they were lathering their hands with the sticky stuff. 

The optics were not looking favorably upon MLB, so it finally decided to come out of the shadows and bare its teeth—this time, definitely. Or, maybe. 

Starting next Monday, umpires will be told to perform multiple mandatory checks on starting pitchers, with at least one check on each reliever either once they are removed or at the end of an inning, whichever comes first. Anyone caught with foreign substances will be outright ejected and suspended, with pay, for 10 days. Repeat offenders will be subject to “progressive discipline.” Any pitcher who refuses a search will be assumed to be in possession of such substances and face ejection as well. Catchers and even other position players could also be searched and face similar punishment if it’s proven that they are abetting the pitcher. If all of this is not considered deterrent enough, this might: Teams cannot replace suspended players on the roster.

In a statement, MLB said it needed the first two months of the regular season to collate statistical data and on-field testimony to make its determinations. But asking pitchers to clean up while essentially in midseason form could lead to some serious withdrawal performance effects, if not worse. 

Just ask Tyler Glasnow. The Rays’ star pitcher admitted he was using sunscreen—and nothing else—to get a better hold of the ball. But fearful of punishment, he put away the lotion in his last two starts and found himself having to naturally grip the ball so hard that he was “choking the s**t out of (his) pitches.” This caused him to develop a partial tear in his elbow, which may require him to undergo Tommy John surgery. (He’s currently seeking medical opinions.) 

Complaining about MLB’s perceived kneejerk response to begin sudden enforcement, Glasnow had wished that the league had decreed the new rules during the offseason so that pitchers would have properly prepared without the physical stress of having to do it in the midst of a regular season. 

So, who to blame? Yes, MLB should have done as Glasnow had asked; announcing the crackdown even a week before Opening Day would not have given pitchers time to adapt. But let’s be honest; the pitchers were cheating, just as hitters were during the Steroid Era. If you can’t use sunscreen or Spider Tack or whatever wonder ‘stick ‘em’ products are available out there, don’t do like Glasnow did and replicate his success at the risk of major injury. Adapt to the rules, just like the juiced sluggers did some 10-to-15 years ago. It will reduce their level of quality, but it would make the game more legitimate and even the playing field—allowing hitters to be more successful at things they previously had trouble with, like putting the ball in play, perhaps more competently away the shift. Thus, less shifts.

The Diamondbacks burst out to a lead so big—7-0, at San Francisco—that they had never lost a game leading by more runs. But these are the Diamondbacks—the lowly, sad Diamondbacks. The Giants scratched and clawed at the Arizona lead and, in the bottom of the eighth, Mike Yastrzemski lofted a two-out grand slam into McCovey Cove outside of Oracle Park to give the Giants an ultimate 9-8 win. The Diamondbacks have now lost 12 straight and 21 in a row on the road—one shy of the modern (post-1900) major league record.

On the day California eliminated all COVID-19 safety protocols and fully reopened for the first time since the start of the pandemic 15 months earlier, Dodger Stadium was opened back up to full capacity and a crowd of 52,078—the largest for an MLB game since 2019—took advantage. The home team made the experience a pleasant one, as the Dodgers scored single runs in the seventh and eighth innings to pull away with a 5-3 win over the Phillies. Julio Urias failed to get his 10th win for Los Angeles, but he did contribute with the bat, punching out an RBI double; it’s the fifth straight game in which he’s had at least one RBI, three games short of the major league record set by Carlos Zambrano in 2008.

Congrats, Your Box Score Line Was the Best (Hitters Edition)

3-2-3-4Ryan McMahon, Colorado
The fifth-year slugger is doing his best to make Rockies fans forget about DJ LeMahieu at second base, finishing a double shy of the cycle and adding a sac fly in an 8-4 home win over the Padres. McMahon is on pace for 38 homers and 102 RBIs on the season.

Congrats, Your Box Score Line Was the Best (Pitchers Edition)

8-4-0-0-0-8Chris Flexen, Seattle
Buoyed by 10 runs from his teammates, the 26-year-old right-hander relaxed himself and breezed through a career-high eight shutout innings against the visiting Twins to pick up his sixth win of the year. Take away a brutal (1.2 innings, eight runs allowed) May 21 start at San Diego, and Flexen’s season ERA is at 3.14.

It Was Whatever-Something Years Ago Today

1938: The Red Sox’ Jimmie Foxx is walked six times against the St. Louis Browns for a one-game record. One of the walks is intentional, although such walks aren’t counted as separate stats at the time. The Red Sox win, 12-8.

2014: The debate over whether to ban chewing tobacco at major league facilities comes to the forefront when it is it learned that retired Hall-of-Fame hitter Tony Gwynn succumbs to cancer of the mouth at age 54. Though tobacco is never officially given as the cause of the cancer, Gwynn was convinced that he contracted the disease after years of such use. Eventually, numerous major league cities will begin to bar tobacco from clubhouses and the field.

Shameless Link of the Day

As MLB struggles to get a grip on the foreign substance issue regarding pitchers, it might be well advised to heed how it stumbled through the Steroid Era.

You Say It’s Your Birthday

Former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton is 37; 2008 All-Star pitcher Joe Saunders is 40; 20-K fastballer Kerry Wood is 44; 16-year infielder Chris Gomez is 50; 1986 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Wally Joyner is 59; felon-turned-All-Star Ron LeFlore is 73. Born on this date is 1960s pitcher Ken Johnson (1933).

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