Nationals' ace Max Scherzer returned from the Injured List on Tuesday and threw five strong innings in Washington's 3-2 victory over the Phillies, but the focus postgame was on what happened between pitches.
With Major League Baseball beginning its crackdown of pitchers using foreign substances this week, Scherzer was checked three times during his five innings of work. Each time, the umpires found nothing illegal.
Twice, Scherzer was checked after finishing an inning. But, during the fourth frame with runners on base, Phillies manager Joe Girardi asked the umpires to check Scherzer for substances mid-inning.
Los Angeles Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw among the many that saw the viral clip of the exchange. Following the Dodgers game on Tuesday night, Kershaw defended Scherzer, calling for consequences on managers if they call for checks and find nothing.
"I think there should be a punishment if they don't catch anything on the guy," Kershaw said. "Scherzer is one of the best pitchers of our generation. To see him get checked, I think it was a first and third situation or guys on base, and mess up his rhythm. I think he ended up getting out of it, but you better find something if you're going to call him out like that."
Kershaw said what Girardi did was a "good technique" strategically, as it certainly "throws you off." That's another reason why the Dodgers' star feels that if a pitcher is checked for foreign substances and nothing is found, there should be repercussions.
"Maybe if they lose a challenge, or maybe if they have a challenge they can't do it. I don't know," Kershaw said. "But I do think there should be repercussions for managers doing that on a whim like that because if you call somebody out -- anybody, but somebody of Max Scherzer's caliber -- and you don't find anything, I think that looks pretty bad on his part, the manager's part."
After Scherzer threw a scoreless fifth inning -- his final frame of the night -- he stared down Girardi as he walked to the dugout. Girardi quickly came out onto the field and was ejected by the umpires.
After the game, Girardi said he asked the umpires to check Scherzer mid-inning because he thought the Nationals' ace was rubbing his hair way more often than usual.
“I’ve seen Max a long time, since 2010 -- 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,” Girardi said. “It was suspicious for me. He did it about four or five times. It was suspicious. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I just got to do what’s right for our club.”
Scherzer, who was visibly upset about the substance checks during his start on Tuesday, took a different approach postgame, though. Instead of blaming Girardi, he pointed the finger at MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred for the sport implementing such rules during the middle of the season.
“Hopefully, the players across the league understand that what we’re doing right now, this is not the answer,” Scherzer said. “These are Manfred rules. Go ask him what he wants to do with this. I've said enough. Go ask Alec Bohm how he feels about 95 at his face. I don’t need to say anything more about this.”