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Is MLB’s crackdown on substance use on balls a ticky-tacky enforcement?

Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow is far from the only one concerned about injuries and the timing of the new plan.
Tyler Glasnow is among the more vocal opponents of MLB enforcing its own rules regarding pitchers using foreign substances to get a better grip on the baseball. "I understand you need to take an aggressive approach here. But I just think people are going about it all wrong.”
Tyler Glasnow is among the more vocal opponents of MLB enforcing its own rules regarding pitchers using foreign substances to get a better grip on the baseball. "I understand you need to take an aggressive approach here. But I just think people are going about it all wrong.” [ MENGSHIN LIN | Times ]
Published Jun. 19

Tyler Glasnow fessed up.

The Rays right-hander admitted, in raw and somewhat emotional comments , that he had been among the pitchers applying technically illegal substances to balls, which has led to a major crackdown that starts Monday.

Glasnow is not among the most wanted, those using advanced products such as Spider Tack that produce higher spin rates and provide a competitive advantage. But he falls in the large group — by some estimates at least 66 to 75 percent — of pitchers who at times use something. For many, it may be sunscreen (the Bullfrog brand is popular) mixed with rosin (which is legal), to get a better grip on balls they say are alternately slick and chalky, consistently inconsistent, based on how and when prepared.

Now Glasnow’s stellar season is interrupted and possibly ended by an elbow injury he is “100 percent” certain stemmed from tightening his grip and adjusting his mechanics to pitching without assistance. He hopes he doesn’t become the poster boy for what could go horribly wrong — for others throwing the ball and those trying to hit it.

Related: An emotional Tyler Glasnow lands on injured list, voices displeasure at new MLB rules

“To tell us to do something completely different in the middle of a season is insane,” Glasnow said. “It’s ridiculous. There has to be some give and take here. You can’t just take away everything and not add something.

“Pitchers need to be able to have some sort of control or some sort of grip on the ball. I just don’t want things like this to happen to somebody else. I don’t want a fastball to sail away and hit somebody in the face, like it already has. I understand you need to take an aggressive approach here. But I just think people are going about it all wrong.”

League officials say there is strong support within the game and among fans to stop the use of illegal substances. That their research and evidence collection over the first two months showed usage and effectiveness were more prevalent and effective than expected, prompting the expedited enforcement of the existing rules. (And that players were told in March this was coming.)

But others — and not only pitchers doing wrong — have major issues with the plan, which provides for ejections and 10-game suspensions for anyone caught.

One fear is that akin to the highway patrol on quota day, the league now is going to ticket all speeders, treating those going 62 mph in a 55-mph zone the same as those doing 82.

Related: Go ahead and point a finger in this Glasnow mess. Just realize what it means

Another is that making the change during the season, when pitchers are competing to help their teams win — and some to keep their jobs — could imperil many. An offseason announcement would have provided time to adjust and experiment in spring training.

In catching the Rays pitchers and trying to hit what others throw, Mike Zunino sees the issues from two viewpoints and both sides.

“There are inconsistencies with how the balls are either rubbed up or presented to pitchers in-game,” he said. “The argument on the pitcher standpoint, I would say most pitchers’ standpoint, is at least you have to have something that can combat whether the balls are dusty, dry, powdery, whatever it is on there. Just to help with a little bit of tackiness.

“I don’t think many guys are out there trying to increase the spin rate and gain an unfair advantage. But as we’ve seen in the past, some people take something too far and the rest have to suffer. Hopefully we can get to some common ground.”

And he’s okay with pitchers using some technically illegal substances, given that rosin does little more than keep hands dry.

“I’m not opposed to that by any means,” Zunino said. “To go into a batter’s box with guys throwing 100 miles an hour is one thing, and then who knows if that guy used to use something just to help with control. …

“I feel like there could be a universal substance that can help with this, that is governed either by MLB or the union and agreed upon. It seemed like a pretty rash decision to do it in the middle of the season. Hopefully, for the players’ sake, we find that adjustment. And there’s not too many people that get hurt on either side of the ball.”

The advance leaks and formal announcement Tuesday of the league plans caused what has been described as “mass panic” throughout clubhouses. Not to mention awkward moments in interviews, several by Yankees ace Geritt Cole, who pleaded with MLB to work with the pitchers. The issue also has resulted in accusations and divisiveness among players.

Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder said he has no worries about others on their highly effective staff — “We don’t have anything to hide” — but has heard of consternation and injury concerns around the league, that Glasnow is not an outlier. “It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds,” he said.

Manager Kevin Cash said in meeting with the team that the issue was made very clear: “It’s a very uniform approach. If you’re using something that is creating tackiness on the ball other than rosin, stop.”

Starting Monday, we’ll see if the warnings stick.

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