LOS ANGELES -- For more than a minute on Wednesday afternoon, Max Scherzer argued with home-plate umpire Dan Bellino and crew chief Phil Cuzzi, his right hand outstretched during most of the exchange. As Mets manager Buck Showalter stood next to him, Scherzer pleaded his case, telling the umpires repeatedly that he was using nothing more than rosin to grip the baseball.
Then Cuzzi ejected Scherzer, leaving the Mets in a pitching bind that, due to a looming potential suspension, could last well beyond their 5-3 win over the Dodgers in the series finale.
Scherzer initially met with Bellino in the middle of the second inning for a routine sticky substances check, which has been part of MLB protocol since 2021. During that exchange, according to both parties, Cuzzi told Scherzer that his hand was too sticky, that he needed to wash it off and that he would be checked again before he returned to the mound for the third.
So Scherzer descended into Dodger Stadium’s visitors' clubhouse and washed his hands with alcohol in front of an MLB official. But when Scherzer returned for the third inning, Cuzzi said, his glove “was sticky” with a foreign substance, which Scherzer claimed was rosin -- the only substance legal for a pitcher to use, provided it is applied directly to his hands, not to his glove or uniform. Cuzzi asked Scherzer to exchange his glove for a new one, which he did before retiring the side in order.
As Scherzer returned for the bottom of the fourth, Cuzzi again stopped him, causing Scherzer to begin animatedly arguing his case. After about a minute, Cuzzi ejected him on the grounds of illegally using a foreign substance, which elicited additional appeals from Scherzer until Showalter guided him away from the fracas.
“[Cuzzi] said my hand’s too sticky,” Scherzer said. “I said, ‘I swear on my kids’ lives, I’m not using anything else. This is sweat and rosin, sweat and rosin.’ I keep saying it over and over, and they touch my hand, they say it’s sticky. Yes, it is, because it’s sweat and rosin. They say it’s too sticky. They threw me out because of that.”
“Both Phil and I touched his hand,” Bellino said through a pool reporter. “As far as stickiness, level of stickiness, this was the stickiest that it has been since I’ve been inspecting hands, which now goes back three seasons. Compared to the first inning, the level of stickiness, it was so sticky that when we touched his hand, our fingers were sticking to his hand. And whatever was on there remained on our fingers afterward for a couple innings, where you could still feel that the fingers were sticking together.”
Jimmy Yacabonis entered in relief and was given unlimited time to warm up due to the abrupt departure of Scherzer, who allowed no runs over three innings in his return from a minor bout of back soreness. When Brandon Nimmo hit a go-ahead two-run homer off former teammate Noah Syndergaard in the fifth, the Mets roared their approval from the visitors' dugout.
“The guys were pretty pumped up about it,” Nimmo said.
This was not Scherzer’s first disagreement with umpires over a sticky substance check. In 2021 with the Nationals, Scherzer threw his cap to the ground, uncinched his belt and began to remove his pants in exasperation after Phillies manager Joe Girardi called for multiple substance checks from the dugout. Following that game, Scherzer discussed at length his process of using sweat and rosin to grip baseballs on the mound.
Wednesday marked the fourth ejection of Scherzer’s career, but it was the first time he had been tossed while actively participating in a game. The early exit exacerbated a recent pitching crunch for the Mets, which could worsen if MLB determines Scherzer was indeed using sticky substances in an illegal manner. Should the league rule against him, he would face a 10-game suspension with a chance to appeal, as MLB pitchers Hector Santiago and Caleb Smith did following sticky-substance ejections in 2021.
The umpiring crew plans to send a report of the incident to MLB, which the Commissioner’s Office will review to determine if a suspension is warranted. Per league guidelines, rosin is legal for pitchers to use on their wrist and forearm “to assist in managing sweat,” but they are prohibited from applying it to their gloves and uniforms. Combining rosin with any other foreign substance, such as sunscreen, is also illegal.
“We understand that the repercussions of removing a pitcher from the game,” Bellino said. “We take that very seriously.”
Scherzer, whose spin rates were in line with his season norms, contended that he would “have to be an absolute idiot” to use a non-rosin substance following the initial umpire check.
“Now, it’s becoming a legal matter,” Scherzer said. “I don’t want to comment what happens next, if I get suspended or not. We’ll see what happens.”