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MLB to crack down on foreign substance use by pitchers

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Many if not most of the pitchers in baseball use foreign substances, whether it’s pine tar or sunscreen or something else entirely. It’s widely known and widely tolerated and Major League Baseball has turned a blind eye to most foreign substance use. If anything, the only time anyone gets in trouble for it is if someone is too obvious about it, such as Michael Pineda having a bunch of it visibly smeared on his neck a few years ago.

To the extent there is controversy about it it’s that gray area quality to things which can lead to weird “gotcha” enforcement when someone is not going through the motions of trying to hide it when a team engages in a little gamesmanship by making a complaint about what, in large part is an open secret.

Those days may be over soon, however. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports:

Chris Young, recently elevated by MLB to a senior VP to oversee on-field operations and umpire development, has been touring camps in Arizona and Florida to deliver the message that Rule 8.02 is going to be enforced this year, The Post has learned. That is the edict that deals with pitchers taking foreign substances to the mound and applying them to the ball.

The likely reason for this is that, for all the talk about how both pitchers and hitters are OK with foreign substance use because it helps pitchers better grip the ball, thereby providing a greater measure of batter safety, there is a clear competitive component to it as well. Better grip means better spin and spin rates, it has been increasingly shown, enhance a pitcher’s effectiveness. Lately Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer has been particularly vocal about this. He recently appeared on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” and claimed that 70% of pitchers use foreign substances and claimed that doctoring baseballs creates “a bigger advantage than steroids ever were.”

It’s worth noting that, a couple of years ago, Bauer got into a public spat with Astros pitcher Lance McCullers after Bauer claimed that the Astros had refined the use of foreign substances in a way that gives their pitchers greater advantages than others. At the time it was viewed as a spat between a controversial figure in Bauer and a player, in McCullers, on a successful team which had a reputation for applying advanced analytical solutions more effectively than other teams. In light of the sign-stealing scandal, obviously, the Astros’ habits are all fair game.

Which makes me wonder if this crackdown on foreign substances is related to the sign-stealing scandal in at least one way: Major League Baseball ignored complaints about the Astros stealing signs in the past and now it looks foolish for having done so. Is there something going on with their pitching that they’re worried about being caught flat-footed on now?

 

Maddon: Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again for Angels this year

Shohei Ohtani
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Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again this season for the Los Angeles Angels after straining his right forearm in his second start, manager Joe Maddon says.

Ohtani likely will return to the Angels’ lineup as their designated hitter this week, Maddon said Tuesday night before the club opened a road series against the Seattle Mariners.

The Angels’ stance on Ohtani is unsurprising after the club announced he had strained the flexor pronator mass near the elbow of his pitching arm. The two-way star’s recovery from the strain requires him to abstain from throwing for four to six weeks, which covers most of the shortened 2020 season.

“I’m not anticipating him pitching at all this year,” Maddon said. “Any kind of throwing program is going to be very conservative.”

Ohtani was injured Sunday in the second inning of his second start since returning to the mound following Tommy John surgery in late 2018. Ohtani issued five walks during the 42-pitch inning against the Houston Astros, with his velocity dropping later in the frame.

The arm injury is another obstacle in Ohtani’s path to becoming the majors’ first true two-way player in decades. He made 10 mound starts as a rookie in 2018 before injuring his elbow, but he served as the Angels’ regular designated hitter last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Ohtani has pitched in only three games since June 2018, but the Angels still believe in Ohtani’s ability to be a two-way player, Maddon said.

“I’m seeing that he can,” Maddon said. “We’ve just got to get past the arm maladies and figure that out. But I’ve seen it. He’s just such a high-end arm, and we’ve seen what he can do in the batter’s box. Now maybe it might get to the point where he may choose to do one thing over the other and express that to us. I know he likes to hit. In my mind’s eye, he’s still going to be able to do this.”

The veteran manager believes Ohtani will benefit from a full spring training and a normal season. Ohtani wasn’t throwing at full strength for a starter when the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training in March because he wasn’t expected to pitch until May as he returned from surgery.

“Going into a regular season with a normal number of starts and all the things that permit guys to be ready for a year, that’s what we need to see is some normalcy before you make that kind of determination,” Maddon said.

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