Brewers reliever Will Smith and Orioles reliever Brian Matusz have been reprimanded for using foreign substances on the mound this past weekend, with Smith getting ejected and Matusz getting an eight-game suspension that he plans to appeal.
In hindsight, perhaps we should have seen this coming. Not because Smith and Matusz are dirty players, but rather, because using foreign substances is more or less accepted, if not expected, in baseball – even if the rule book says otherwise.
“It’s been happening for years. This is not anything new,” Fox Sports 1 MLB analyst C.J. Nitkowski said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “But the thing that has stuck out to me in this is kind of how dumb guys have gotten. We know it goes on. Hitters don’t seem that concerned about it. (It) never seemed to bother them, which always kind of surprised me. They want to make sure the pitcher has a good grip on the ball so fast balls aren’t flying all over the place and hitting guys, but you had to be discreet, right? You would put it on your belt or your glove or your hat or something and just kind of be sneaky about it. Especially nowadays where there’s cameras everywhere in high definition and they’re looking at everything, you can’t just put it on you forearm where all of a sudden there’s this bright reflection coming off your forearm.”
Yankees starter Michael Pineda, of course, had his issues with pine tar last year, but it seems pitchers haven’t learning from his not-so-good example.
“It looked like he just kind of slapped some pine tar on his neck with a spatula,” Nitkowski said. “I mean, you have to be way more discreet than that. That’s the thing that kind of stuck out. This stuff happens, but you just had a couple guys that for whatever reason just did an awful, awful job of hiding it, and they’ve kind of put themselves in this situation now.”
Nitkowski, who pitched for nine different Major League clubs from 1995 to 2005, said he usually put pine tar on his belt, especially if he were pitching, say, in Chicago in April.
“I used to always hate doing that,” he said. “You really couldn’t get a grip on the ball. But then once the weather was warm, you were doing it to try to get more spin on your breaking all. It’s a friction issue. There’s no two ways about it. It’s definitely cheating, but it’s a lot of fun. People look away. They have been for years.”
That includes hitters.
“I would think that as a hitter I would not want a pitcher to have any advantage,” Nitkowski said, “especially in today’s game where there is so much lack of offense going on and pitchers are just kind of dominating the game right now. But like I said, most guys that I talk to just don’t seem to care.”
Nitkowski doesn’t believe there will be any rule changes involving foreign substances in the near future, but he does believe it’s a “significant advantage” for pitchers.
“For the guys that are telling you they’re just doing it because they want to have a better grip on the ball, (that) they’re worried about having command, it’s a lie,” Nitkowski said. “It’s just a lie. There’s no two ways about it. It’s there because you can throw a better breaking pitch. That’s why guys use it.”