Max Scherzer had been checked twice already between innings for the use of a foreign substance, as the umpires followed new MLB directives to step up enforcement.
But Phillies manager Joe Girardi asked the umpires to check a third time one out in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s 3-2 Nationals win, and Washington general manager Mike Rizzo took issue with Girardi’s request.
In an appearance on 106.7 The Fan’s “The Sports Junkies,” Rizzo called Girardi a “con artist” and prompted the league and players’ association to find a solution so an on-field scene such as Tuesday’s — with Scherzer nearly undressing and Girardi later ejected — doesn’t occur again.
“You’re not supposed to ask umpires to check unless you have probable cause to do so,” Rizzo said. “You know, if you see a ball with some pine tar on it or something like that, that’s probable cause to check the pitcher.
“This is what I was told last night: You’re not supposed to be able to just randomly ask the umpires to go check the pitcher, and they check him,” Rizzo continued. “This is now. This is our second day into this thing. A lot of things when they’re new, I remember when we had the COVID testing, and in the early days it didn’t work well, but then MLB got it and it worked great.”
Rizzo understands why MLB is increasing enforcement. The use of commercial adhesives, such as Spider Tack, is often seen to go beyond enhancing grip into the territory of finding a competitive advantage with a higher spin rate and increased velocity.
But Rizzo said there has to be “some middle road” to allow pitchers to get a grip on the baseball without leading to a significant competitive advantage against hitters.
Scherzer stressed Tuesday night that he was wiping his hair repeatedly to get sweat on his hands to mix with the rosin, hoping to find a better hold on the ball. Scherzer had a 95 mph fastball slip out and run high and inside on Alec Bohm before Girardi asked for Scherzer to be checked again.
The check included the umpires running their fingers through Scherzer’s hair, and manager Dave Martinez and Girardi exchanged words during that check. Following the fifth inning, Scherzer’s final one, Girardi exited the dugout and shouted toward Washington’s dugout. He was ejected.
“What are we, idiots? Of course he was,” Rizzo said when asked if Girardi was playing games, attempting to disrupt Scherzer’s rhythm. “It’s embarrassing for Girardi. It’s embarrassing for the Phillies. It’s embarrassing for baseball. Yes, he was playing games. Hey, that’s his right. Gamesmanship. It had nothing to do with substances. He had no probable cause to ask for it. The umps shouldn’t have allowed it. But it happened and you’ve got to deal with it. This is what we’re gonna have to deal with.
“You think you’re gonna intimidate a Max Scherzer? It’s just not gonna happen,” he continued on 106.7 The Fan. “You’re just gonna piss him off and make him concentrate that much harder. This is about breaking Max‘s rhythm and frustrating him and that type of thing, and it didn’t work. Our bullpen pitched great, we got some timely hits and we beat the Phillies. So we move on. We play them today again, so that’s good.”
After the game, Girardi told reporters he thought it was suspicious that Scherzer kept touching his hair. The Phillies manager hadn’t seen Scherzer do that before, although Scherzer said in his own press conference he needed to do that to wet his hand sufficiently with sweat.
Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel said he believed Girardi’s explanation, particularly because Bickel assumed Girardi knew Scherzer wouldn’t be fazed by any sort of gamesmanship.
“I think [Girardi] tried to get him off his rhythm a little bit, but I don’t think that was necessarily his goal,” Bickel said.
“That was his goal,” Rizzo replied. “He’s a con artist. He got you in the con if you believe it. That’s the way it is. He’s been doing that for years on TV.”
Rizzo downplayed the comment shortly after, saying he “loves” Girardi and knows him well from scouting him in high school and at Northwestern. But Rizzo was still irked by how Tuesday’s checks played out.