Baseball viewers saw the most extreme application of the new sticky stuff rules to date last night as Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer was checked three times for illegal substances by the umpires. Scherzer, predictably, was very displeased about that.
Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi was the catalyst, as the new rules state that either the umpires or the managers can initiate a check of a pitcher for illegal substances. It ultimately did not end up making a difference as the Nats beat the Phillies, 3-2. Scherzer struck out eight batters in five innings and gave up one earned run. The umpires did not find anything illegal about his pitching.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo was not happy about how it all went down and said as much during an appearance on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies. He called Girardi a "con artist" and said that it was all just a ploy to throw Scherzer off his game, rather than any legitimate attempt to enforce fair play.
You can listen to the full clip here. Rizzo's comments are transcribed below.
"Of course Girardi was [playing games]. What are we, idiots? It's embarrassing for Girardi, it's embarrassing for the Phillies, it's embarrassing for baseball. Yes, he was playing games, but that's his right. Gamesmanship. It had nothing to do with substances, he had no probable cause to ask for it, the ump shouldn't have allowed it. But it happens and you gotta deal with it. This is what we're going to have to deal with it... This is about breaking Max's rhythm and frustrating him and that type of thing."
The hosts then discussed if it really was Girardi's goal to piss off Max Scherzer, because that's not something that usually works out for the opposing team. Rizzo reiterated that's exactly what Girardi was doing, in his view.
"That was his goal. He's a con artist."
Rizzo then said that he knows Girardi really well and even scouted him when the manager was coming out of Northwestern, so it isn't personal. This isn't an instance of Rizzo disliking Girardi on a personal level. He just clearly does not appreciate Girardi's manipulation of these recently-instituted rules to try and help his team.
This is going to be a problem for MLB. It's difficult for anyone to prove "probable cause" to check a pitcher for illegal substances unless he's very obviously wiping something off his hat before every pitch or something like that. Now that the pitchers know the penalty for using illegal substances, none are going to be that blatant about the rule-breaking. That will not stop Girardi and other managers from claiming they had probable cause to break the opposing pitchers' rhythms, just in case it gives them that slight edge they need to pull out a win.
Girardi was taking advantage of the early days of these rules. Rizzo wasn't a fan. But it won't be the last time this happens.