Smith suspended 10 games after sticky stuff ejection

June 14th, 2023

NEW YORK -- was incredulous, upturning his hands for anyone willing to feel them. He showed them to all four umpires. He showed them to his teammates on the field, then to others in the dugout. He showed them to a league employee stationed in the tunnel.

He paraded them around to everyone, knowing there was nothing he could do to change the situation. Smith was ejected during a routine sticky substance check in the seventh inning of the Mets' 7-6 loss to the Yankees on Tuesday night at Citi Field, leaving his clubhouse bewildered in the wake of the second such incident to affect the team this season.

A day later, MLB handed Smith a 10-day suspension and a fine, which will force the Mets to play with a short roster during one of their most difficult stretches of the schedule.

“We’re all angry about this one,” said starting pitcher Max Scherzer, who was ejected and suspended under similar circumstances in April.

Scherzer’s irritation stemmed from his personal evaluation of Smith: “If you feel his hand, you don’t feel anything.”

That was not a view shared by crew chief Bill Miller, who stopped Smith when he approached the mound to begin a relief appearance in the seventh inning. When Miller’s check lasted longer than usual, the entire umpiring crew gathered around Smith, as did various Mets infielders and, eventually, manager Buck Showalter.

After a period of discussion in which every other umpire checked Smith, Miller ejected him. The crew chief later told a pool reporter that both of Smith’s hands were “distinctly” stickier than normal.

“I don’t know what it was,” Miller said of the substance. “I just know it was sticky.”

Much like Scherzer on April 19, Smith contended that he had applied nothing more than sweat and rosin -- two legal substances that can become illegal when used in excess. Smith does not believe he approached that limit, saying he used the same amount of rosin as he typically does, and that every other umpiring crew he had worked with this year approved it.

“My hands weren’t sticky,” Smith said. “The process is so arbitrary. It can change from one crew to the other. I think that’s the main issue. It just sucks for the team not having a guy for 10 days.”

Smith was referencing an MLB policy that results in a 10-game suspension for pitchers ejected during sticky-substance checks. There have been four since the policy was implemented in 2021: the Mariners' Hector Santiago and the D-backs' Caleb Smith that summer, and the Yankees' Domingo German and Scherzer earlier this season. In addition, Mets Minor Leaguers Eric Orze and Dylan Bundy were both ejected from Triple-A games earlier this season.

When Scherzer elected not to appeal his suspension because of the way it would have affected the Mets’ schedule, he wound up missing two weeks due to a string of rainouts. Smith likewise did not appeal his suspension and will miss the remainder of the Subway Series, as well as upcoming series against the Cardinals, Astros and Phillies. One benefit is that the Mets have two team off-days over that stretch, which should help them to keep other relievers relatively rested.

MLB rules stipulate that the Mets will not be able to replace Smith, who has produced a 4.18 ERA over 26 appearances as one of Showalter’s primary setup men, on their roster. Smith also still counts toward the Mets' limit of 13 pitchers. In effect, the team must play short-handed for most of the rest of June.

“You ask me what kind of challenge it is? I think that’s kind of self-explanatory,” Showalter said. “It creates a whole different pecking order than what you’re used to.”