Scherzer, Boras, Umpires Discuss Foreign Substance Ejection

The sticky stuff crackdown returned to the forefront of MLB attention this afternoon. Mets ace Max Scherzer was ejected after three innings in today’s contest against the Dodgers. An agitated Scherzer was thrown out by crew chief Phil Cuzzi after an extended conversation and inspection of his hands (video provided by Fox Sports MLB).

Failed foreign substance checks come with an automatic 10-game suspension. MLB hasn’t officially levied any discipline to this point, though it’s widely expected the eight-time All-Star will be hit with a suspension. Scherzer told reporters after the game he planned to appeal if suspended (via Bob Nightengale of USA Today).

Scherzer proclaimed his innocence, saying umpires had only detected a combination of sweat and permissible rosin (relayed by Steve Gelbs of SNY). “I said I swear on my kids’ life I’m not using anything else. This is sweat and rosin, sweat and rosin. I keep saying it over and over.” Scherzer added that he anticipated a substance check before the fourth inning, saying he’d “have to be an absolute idiot” to apply anything else.

The three-time Cy Young winner said his hand had gotten “clumpy” with rosin during the second inning. That’s apparently not atypical, as Cuzzi told the pitcher to wash his hand. Scherzer was adamant he washed it with alcohol and changed his glove before reapplying rosin headed into the fourth.

Scherzer’s agent Scott Boras predictably came to his defense. In a statement to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (on Twitter), Boras attacked what he perceived as umpire subjectivity. “MLB standards and rules enforcement should mandate and require an objective verifiable standard,” Boras said. “If you want to attack the integrity of the competition, you need clear precise standards (or) else you damage the game and its players. The Cuzzi on field spectrometer is not the answer. MLB needs to employ available scientific methods (not subjective) to create verifiable certainly of its rules.”

Cuzzi and home plate umpire Dan Bellino defended their actions after the game. “This was the stickiest [a hand] has been since I’ve been inspecting hands, which goes back three seasons,” Bellino said (via Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times). “It was so sticky that when we touched his hand, our fingers were sticking to his hand.” He went on to call it “far more than we have ever seen before on a pitcher in live action” and noted that umpires are aware of the consequences for pitchers ejected for foreign substances, implying they don’t take lightly the expected suspension in making that decision (transcribed by Mike Puma of the New York Post).

Cuzzi made a similar argument, saying Scherzer’s hand was “far stickier than anything that we felt certainly today and anything this year. And so in that case, we felt as though he had two chances to clean it up and he didn’t” (relayed by Tim Healey of Newsday). Bellino called it “something likely more than rosin” in his judgment (thread via Jesse Rogers of ESPN). “We know what the rosin typically feels like on a pitcher’s hand because everyone is using the same rosin bag,” he added. Rogers notes that while rosin itself is not a banned substance, it can be impermissible if used excessively or misapplied.

Drawing that line presents a judgment call for an umpiring crew. Scherzer’s ejection was the first for a failed substance check since the end of the 2021 campaign. Yankees righty Domingo Germán had a close call during a start against the Twins last week, when umpires twice warned him for using too much rosin (link via Dan Hayes of the Athletic). Germán was allowed to stay in the game after washing the rosin to the umpiring crew’s satisfaction. That displeased Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who was ejected for arguing against Germán being allowed to continue. Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts said that Los Angeles did not request any of the glove inspections in Scherzer’s case (via Rowan Kavner of Fox Sports).

It’s only the beginning of what figures to be a notable saga if/when MLB levies a suspension. In suspensions for violations of on-field rules, clubs are required to play a man short while the ban is being served. The Mets already have three starters — Justin VerlanderJosé Quintana and Carlos Carrasco — on the injured list.