MILWAUKEE – In the weeks before Major League Baseball implemented its sticky stuff crackdown, fans played the role of the investigator from home. On social media, they circulated screenshots and video clips of what they thought could be – or claimed must be – violations of the foreign substance rule.
That’s how the disappearing spot on Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel’s hat became a story. But two weeks after MLB announced that it was going to strictly enforce its foreign substance rule, and a week after they rolled out their on-field screening of pitchers, Kimbrel’s performance hadn’t wavered. And he agreed to a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago about the crackdown.
“I don’t use any of that stuff that they’re trying to get out of the game, anyways,” Kimbrel said.
Entering the Cubs’ game at Milwaukee on Tuesday, Kimbrel had gone 12 straight outings without giving up a run and 15 without an earned run. His last outing was part of a combined no-hitter against the Dodgers.
It also happened to be his first appearance since the crackdown began. Some in the game voiced concern that umpire checks might disrupt pitchers’ focus when conducted as they took the mound, which is when closers have often undergone screening in the past week. But Kimbrel said he didn’t have a problem handing over his glove and hat after running in from the bullpen.
“A lot of guys still have questions,” Kimbrel said, “but I think for the majority, everybody’s OK with it. We want the game to be fair. We want everybody to be on the same playing field.”
He pointed to Mariners pitcher Héctor Santiago’s ejection as an example of those questions. Umpires found a foreign substance on Santiago’s glove as he exited the Mariners’ game Sunday against the White Sox. He said to reporters after the game that he only used rosin, on both arms, but was told pitchers aren’t allowed rosin on their glove hand.
MLB announced on Tuesday that Santiago received a 10-game suspension and undisclosed fine but elected to appeal. His is the first foreign-substance discipline handed down since umpires began their regular in-game checks of pitchers.
Kimbrel said he’s “fine with” the rule that parses how and where pitchers can use rosin.
He’s been asking clarifying questions since before the crackdown. The night of the disappearing hat spot last month, Kimbrel was the one who approached umpire Joe West on the subject. Days before, West and his crew had confiscated Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos’ hat for a spot on the brim.
“I’ve had dirt on my hat my whole career from rubbing the ball and rubbing my hat,” Kimbrel said. “It’s part of my routine. And I just asked him, ‘Joe, you know this is dirt, but obviously there’s a spot.’”
Kimbrel likes to wear the same hat all year – “I think it’s more of a superstition thing,” he said.
West looked at the hat, Kimbrel said, and told him he’d have to confiscate it for the mark. But if he could rub the spot off before taking the mound, he’d be good to go.
“And that’s what I did,” Kimbrel said.