PHILADELPHIA – Phillies manager Joe Girardi swore Tuesday afternoon that he would not ask an umpire to check an opposing pitcher for a foreign substance for purely gamesmanship purposes.
That would be “silly,” he said.
But, Girardi added, he absolutely would ask an umpire to check a pitcher if he saw something “clear cut.”
A few hours later, in the middle of the fourth inning in Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Nationals, Girardi asked crew chief Alfonso Marquez to check Nationals ace Max Scherzer’s hair for foreign substances. This, after Marquez checked Scherzer’s cap, glove and hands after the first and third innings and found nothing. Scherzer could not believe it.
“I’d have to be an absolute fool to use anything tonight when everyone’s antennae are so high,” Scherzer said.
Major League Baseball on Monday began to enforce Rules 3.01 and 6.02(c) and (d) regarding foreign substances on the baseball as pitchers dominated through the first two months of the season. The league’s batting average (.236) was on pace to be the lowest in baseball history – one point lower than in 1968, which prompted the league to change the height of the mound.
Umpires told starters that they would be inspected twice. Girardi requested a third inspection because he said he never saw Scherzer run his fingers through his hair repeatedly like he did Tuesday.
“I’ve seen Max a long time, since 2010,” Girardi said. “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. So it was suspicious for me. He did it about four times. It was suspicious. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I just have to do what's right for our club.”
Scherzer dropped his glove and cap as Marquez and his crew approached. He looked indignant.
"I wasn’t heated, I was just trying to show I have absolutely zero on me,” Scherzer said. “I have nothing on me, check whatever you want. I’ll take off all my clothes if you want to see me. I have nothing on me.”
In fact, Scherzer tried. He started to unbuckle his belt at one point.
Marquez told him to stop.
“Hey, don’t get ejected over this,” he told him. “Let us just do our job and then we’ll be fine.”
Marquez told a press pool reporter that he considered Girardi’s request legitimate based on Scherzer’s actions on the mound.
And Scherzer’s hair?
“Nothing but sweat,” he said.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez joined Scherzer on the mound. He pointed into the Phillies dugout. Girardi threw up his arms and moved to the top step. Play resumed and Scherzer finished the inning unscathed.
Scherzer pitched a perfect fifth to finish his night. He stared down Girardi as he left the field. Once in the dugout, he showed Girardi his right hand, cap and glove one more time. Girardi walked onto the field as several Nationals coaches yelled at him. He gestured for them to come to his side of the field. Nationals pitching coach Jim Hickey mocked Girardi at one point, gesturing to be held back from the confrontation.
Home plate umpire Tim Timmons ejected Girardi for the 40th time in his career.
“I wasn't challenging their club,” Girardi said. “There were some coaches that were screaming at me. Coaches that I know. And it bothered me. Right? I mean, I'm not playing games. I'm trying to win games here. I'm not playing games. I have respect for the other people over there. I have respect for what Max has done in his career. Again, I have to do what's right for our team.”
So, Max, what’s with the hair?
“I was just using rosin tonight,” he said. “Typically, I like to lick my hands, that kind of gets some tack. But like I said, I was using a lot of rosin tonight, so I was eating rosin. I was like, 'All right, I don't want to eat rosin, it tastes gross.' That's when I was like, 'OK, the only sweaty part on me is my hair,' so that's where I was just trying to get that moisture to mix with rosin. But even that wasn't working. I had zero feel of the baseball tonight whatsoever.
“For me, that's the confusing part; I'm just trying to get a grip of the ball, and even watching the previous at-bat, the ball slipped out of my hand and I almost drilled somebody in the face."
He was referring to Alec Bohm, who got knocked down by a 95-mph fastball in the fourth. Pitchers have claimed that there will be more hit batters if they cannot get better grips on the ball. But the hit-by-pitch rate through May 31 was the highest in the last 100 years. The previous three seasons were the next three highest.
That was with the use of the sticky stuff.
Girardi said he is not worried about the Nationals asking to inspect his pitchers as retaliation. Martinez made sure to point out that they won anyway.
"We kept our composure and we came away victorious,” he said. “The bottom line is that's what we're here to do. Hey, there was no sticky stuff. Let's just say that. The umpires checked and everything was good. Like I said, I think Joe's got to answer the tough questions tonight."