Baseball union chief believes ‘the ball suddenly changed’

Commissioner Rob Manfred insists MLB ’has done nothing’ to alter baseballs.
Tampa native Pete Alonso of the New York Mets, shown here reacting to his blast in the Home Run Derby Monday, has helped trigger a power surge that many in and outside baseball questioning whether baseballs have been altered. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Tampa native Pete Alonso of the New York Mets, shown here reacting to his blast in the Home Run Derby Monday, has helped trigger a power surge that many in and outside baseball questioning whether baseballs have been altered. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Published July 9

CLEVELAND — Something wasn’t flying Tuesday afternoon in answers to questions why so many baseballs are.

Baseball’s top two leaders, commissioner Rob Manfred and players union chief Tony Clark, had quite the opposite answers when asked about whether the production of the ball had anything to do with the proliferation of home runs.

[ MORE BASEBALL: Manfred says Montreal plan is an attempt to 'preserve baseball in Tampa Bay' ]

Clark, speaking first in a session with the Baseball Writers Association of America, said, “I believe that the ball suddenly changed and I don’t know why.”

Many pitchers suggested similarly, most prominently AL All-Star starter Justin Verlander, who Monday said the ball is a (colorful adjective deleted) joke and accused MLB of ordering the change to boost offense. They have reason to wonder, with 3,691 homers hit in 1,345 games, a pace for 6,669, a 19 percent increase over last year.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, however, was adamant that was not the case, insisting MLB “has done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball.”

Manfred said MLB has scientists studying the ball, and have been told there is no evidence the ball is harder, as some suggest, but there is less “drag” as is soars through the air.

The ex-Rays report

Two ex-Rays pitchers, Kirby Yates (Padres) and Jake Odorizzi (Twins), earned their way to the game, along with former Rays pitching prospect Felipe Vazquez (Pirates).

Odorizzi was 10-4, 3.15 in his second season since being traded to the Twins. Vazquez, who the Rays traded as a minor-leaguer (then named Felipe Rivero) in 2014, is 2-1, 2.11 with 20 saves for the Pirates and is a second time All-Star.

Yates is the biggest surprise, given his breakthrough performance this season, posting 30 saves and a 1.15 ERA in his third season with the Padres

Pretty good for a guy that was pretty much dumped by the Rays after the 2015 season, having worked his way up after signing as an amateur free agent in 2009. He bounced from the Indians to the Yankees to the Angels before landing with the Padres in 2017 and turning into a dependable reliever and this season a closer, a hot trade commodity and an All-Star.

“Pretty surreal, and neat,’’ said Yates, 32. “I don’t really know exactly how to take it all in yet. It’s cool. And I don’t take this for granted.’’

Yates said he never lost confidence in himself, and the combination of opportunity and improvement lined up: “This is something I never thought wasn’t possible.’’

Yates also said there was no reason to blame the Rays: “I didn’t have a good year. I wasn’t missing barrels. Balls were going out of the park. It sucked at the time, because it was honestly the first bad year I’d had with them, even through the minor leagues. But I understand why they did what they did. I wasn’t very good.’’

[ MORE BASEBALL: Winning the Home Run Derby was a family affair for Tampa's Pete Alonso ]

Rays report: Lowe update, draft signing

Infielder Brandon Lowe continues to progress in recovery from the bruised right leg that kept him from playing in the All-Star Game and said he is aiming to return to action when eligible Saturday in Baltimore. “The goal is to be able to play that day,’’ he said. … Reliever Diego Castillo (shoulder) worked one inning in a Gulf Coast League, throwing nine pitches, including a walk and a strikeout. The Rays are hoping to activate him Friday. Infielder Matt Duffy (hamstring) and lefty Anthony Banda (Tommy John rehab) also played. … Hawaii high school outfielder Shane Sasaki, the Rays third round selection in the June draft, signed for a reported $475,000, about $100,000 under slot value for the No. 99 pick. The signing deadline is 5 p.m. Friday. … Clark said the grievance filed in spring 2018 against the Rays, plus the A’s, Marlins and Pirates over use of revenue sharing funds remains pending, and of concern. “Settlements can be made, grievances can go to arbitration, our concern remains the same,’’ he said. “The idea that it’s “pending” would suggest we haven’t found common ground on that.’’

Miscellany

Angels outfielder Mike Trout wore No. 45 in honor of teammate Tyler Skaggs, who died last week, and there was a pre-game moment of silence. … Former Indians/current Yankees starter CC Sabathia threw out the first pitch, with former Cleveland star Sandy Alomar catching. … Going into Tuesday’s game the AL led 44-43-2. … It was the sixth All-Star Game in Cleveland. .. The NL starting lineup’s average age of 25.25 was the youngest ever selected, per MLB.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays

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