Max Scherzer returned from the injured list Tuesday having only missed the minimum 10 days while he healed from a groin strain. He sat out just one turn of the Nationals’ rotation. But by the time he was ready to pitch again, Major League Baseball had undergone a significant change.
Amid a decline in offense across the sport, MLB decided to crack down on pitchers’ use of foreign substances that helped them get a better grip on the baseball. The new rules, which went into effect Monday, require pitchers to submit to checks by the umpires to make sure they aren’t using anything other than the approved rosin bag placed behind the mound.
Scherzer’s first experience with the policy during Washington’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies didn’t go all that smoothly. After umpires checked him twice between innings, Phillies manager Joe Girardi stopped the game and asked the crew to take a look at Scherzer’s hair because of how often he was running his fingers through it.
“I would have to be an absolute fool to actually use something tonight, when everybody’s antenna is so far high,” Scherzer said on a Zoom call after the game. “They’d look for anything.
“I have absolutely zero on me. I have nothing on me. Check whatever you want. I’ll take off all my clothes if you want to see me. I got nothing on me.”
That sparked frustration from the Nationals’ dugout, prompting a red-hot Davey Martinez to walk out yelling at both Girardi and the umpires. Scherzer threw his hat and glove on the ground and started unbuckling his belt before the umpires told him they only wanted to see his hair. The right-hander was especially confused because only a few pitches before, a fastball got away from him and nearly hit Phillies infielder Alec Bohm in the face.
“That pitch specifically is the pitch I fear the most,” Scherzer said. “I don’t wanna throw that pitch. I never want to throw a ball near somebody’s head and tonight the ball did. The previous at-bat, I was able to get a fastball by him on an inside fastball. I was literally trying to throw the same exact pitch and it slips out of my hand and it ends up near his face.
“Thank God, it did not hit him in the face. I don’t ever want to put a fastball in somebody’s face, but we almost had that tonight. Ball slipped out of my hand.”
MLB’s decision to enforce these new rules midseason without giving pitchers a chance to adjust outside of a game setting has sparked criticism from players around the league. While some substances such as Spider Tack helped pitchers generate some absurd spin on their pitches that made them virtually unhittable, Scherzer wishes MLB would’ve consulted with players to work out a different solution.
“Hopefully, the players across the league understand that what we’re doing right now, this is not the answer,” Scherzer said. “I feel like there’s a minority group of players here that have made it public about how they feel about pitchers and how what they’re going about. And I completely understand. There’s a problem with Spider Tack in the game and we gotta get rid of that, but there’s a way to handle this in a better way.”
As for that better way, Scherzer proposed having the clubhouse monitors that are already stationed at every ballpark to make sure players are wearing masks start checking pitchers for foreign substances as well. He believes it would be more “pragmatic” to have them look at pitchers’ hands in the dugout rather than ask umpires to do it on the field.
However, any further questions will have to be directed to Commissioner Rob Manfred. Scherzer concluded his press conference by pointing to those who put the new rules in place.
“These are Manfred rules,” Scherzer said. “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.”