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MLB needs to rewrite its (rarely enforced) foreign-substance rule

Getty Images, AP Photo

ST. LOUIS -- Every day on Twitter, there are dozens of observations flying around, like this one from @David_Rieder this morning: "Garrett Richards has something shiny on his cap he's dabbing before every pitch. Yup, again."

I can't tell you whether Richards really does have something on his cap, but what I can tell you is that in just about every game you watch, there are pitchers dabbing a spot on the bill of their cap, as described by Mr. Rieder, or, more often, touching or rubbing a slick area on the forearm of their glove hand.

In fact, recently, Michael Pineda, who famously slopped a gob of pine tar on the side of his neck in April 2014, an act for which he was suspended and ejected, could be seen reaching for that same area on his forearm that every other pitcher seems to reach for.

Major League Baseball could just hope and expect that fans like David Rieder would ignore what's happening right in front of them, in high definition. But that's not going to happen, because fans know that within the Major League Baseball rulebook, there is a regulation against the use of a foreign substance. It's Rule 8.02, and (a) 2 through 6 read like this:

The pitcher shall not:

(2) expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove;
(3) rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing;
(4) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;
(5) deface the ball in any manner;
(6) or deliver a ball altered in a manner prescribed by Rule 8.02 (a) 2 through 5 or what is called the shine ball, spit ball, mud ball or emery ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands.

For years, spit balls and shine balls and the like were legal, but that eventually changed and the above rules were put in place. But it has been almost a century since these rules were altered, and maybe it's time for them to be refreshed. In the aftermath of what has gone on with Tom Brady and the deflated footballs, MLB should think about cleaning up the situation with foreign substances and find some rule and tacky amalgam that it is comfortable with pitchers using.

Because as it stands, there are many pitchers actually breaking the rule regarding the use of foreign substances, touching the pine tar that has accumulated on their cap or dabbing the sunscreen that covers their arm. Every day, fans see this and wonder why their manager isn't doing anything about it, and why the opposing pitcher is such a cheater.

Players, managers, coaches and executives are all well aware of this, and don't think it's a big deal at all. A lot of hitters will tell you privately, citing their own safety, they'd prefer the pitcher have access to a tacky substance like pine tar and have a better chance at gripping the baseball, especially on cold days.

Major League Baseball executives, such as commissioner Rob Manfred, are presumably well aware of this. Heck, it's right out there for them to see, as well as for the rest of us to notice. If they're OK with this -- with the big semicircle of pine tar on the cap or a sheen of BullFrog sunscreen on the forearm -- then just put it in writing and change the rule.

MLB's concern might be rooted in concern about how it could police the degree of use. In other words, if they told pitchers they can use pine tar, will somebody load up a gob on one side of the ball in a crucial spot in a game?

Perhaps. But keep in mind that the balls are in play for a very short time these days, for one pitch or a batter or maybe two batters. Rarely is one baseball used for an entire inning.

So why not adjust the rule, and ask pitchers entering a game to check with umpires about the substance they are using, much in the same way they asked for permission to blow on their pitching hand on cold days? Pineda could show the plate umpire the stuff on his arm or his cap, get the OK and everybody goes about their business.

Right now, the foreign-substance rule is broken repeatedly, probably in just about every game, and MLB is assuming that no player or manager or coach will make a big deal about it, because of the broader context of use. But it's leaving itself open to something of a mess if some fuming manager or coach loses his temper and asks an umpire to check an opposing pitcher who is having a good day, or maybe working the final inning of a close game. Or maybe some team is down to its last reliever in a big spot, and that's when a manager will decide to ask the umpire to check the pitcher.

Because if the home plate umpire is asked to go to the mound and check these days, what he'll find is pine tar or sunscreen, foreign substances that are technically illegal. Just ask Pineda.

It's a box that Major League Baseball should want to veer around, for the sake of the pitchers, the managers and the umpires, and for the sake of fans who might be wondering what exactly is allowed.

Marlins' managerial change could prove to be brilliant … or a disaster

Immediately after Shelby Miller's near no-hitter against his team, Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria acted on his unhappiness from earlier in the season and fired manager Mike Redmond. Loria is good at firing managers, writes Dave Hyde, and Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill said the team was looking for a new voice.

The Marlins' next manager will be their general manager, Dan Jennings, a choice that is destined to go down in history as completely brilliant or one of the strangest decisions ever made.

Jennings has been a scout and an executive, with some success in those roles, but he has close to zero experience as a manager. He has just about zero experience anticipating in-game situations from the dugout, dealing with players from the perspective of a manager and handling questions day after day from the media about strategic decisions.

That last one is a big one. Neither Brad Ausmus nor Robin Ventura had managed before, but both had decades of dealing with reporters' questions after wins and losses, both in the best of times and the worst of times. This issue might be the most significant potential fault line for Jennings. It's one thing to chat informally with a reporter in the back of a press box or muse collegially after the fact over decisions made. But it's a completely different matter to cope with all that day by day, with the cameras and digital recorders rolling, without working experience in understanding how each syllable of each word will be parsed by players sensitive to criticism.

Jennings will probably have to fight the perception in the clubhouse that he is Loria's puppet, someone whose every move and decision is dictated by the owner. Somehow, he will need to establish to the players that he works somewhat independently from Loria, or he will have no credibility in their eyes.

In short: I cannot recall someone taking over as manager facing greater challenges than Jennings would face, at least since Jerry Coleman left the broadcast booth for one year to manage the San Diego Padres in 1980. Coleman was always the first one to tell people how disastrous that turned out to be.


More on Shelby Miller's near no-hitter

From ESPN Stats & Info on how Miller beat the Marlins:

A. He threw first-pitch strikes to 83 percent (24 of 29) of hitters, the third-highest single-game mark of his career. He was at 63 percent on the season entering Sunday.

B. With the help of getting ahead so often, Miller finished 55 percent of his plate appearances in three pitches or fewer. That number was at 45 percent for the season entering Sunday.

C. He worked inside more, with 45 percent of his pitches being on the inner half; his season mark was 35 percent entering Sunday.

D. He got misses on 29 percent of swings, up from 23 percent for the season entering Sunday.

What an acquisition Miller has been for the Braves, writes Mark Bradley. The Braves swept the Marlins, as Michael Cunningham writes.


Notables

• A note from Elias Sports Bureau: There were seven team shutouts in the majors on Sunday, and according to the Associated Press, that was just the ninth such day in major league history. The last was on July 27, 2013; it also occurred in 2006, 1968, 1964, 1944, 1942 and 1908. (Surprisingly, three of those were before the expansion era, though they were also in the time of frequent doubleheaders.) The only calendar day in history with eight shutouts was June 4, 1972.

• The Astros wrecked the Blue Jays, sweeping the four-game series, and they have the best record in the American League. Prospect Lance McCullers Jr. is fired up for his MLB debut today, as Jesus Ortiz writes.

• The Cardinals' Matt Holliday is closing in on 300 career homers, yet at age 35, the hitting spray chart he is generating is more in line with that of a slap hitter. Going into Sunday night's game, Holliday had pulled just 23 percent of the balls he had put in play, the lowest percentage of his career. Forty-four percent of the time, he had hit the ball to the middle of the field, the highest percentage of his career, and 33 percent of his balls in play were to the opposite field, his highest percentage since 2006. This tendency was reflected in the way the Tigers defended him over the weekend, with the right fielder shifted toward the foul line, the center fielder moved toward right-center and the left fielder shaded to left-center.

Holliday was not aware of the numbers, but said he is simply hitting the ball where it's being pitched, which is generally away. A National League general manager said that in the midst of the Cardinals' offensive struggles in 2014, given the construction of the St. Louis lineup, there was no reason to give Holliday anything to hit, which explains why he's being pitched away.

Holliday is hitting well (.328 average), and on Sunday, when the Tigers' Alfredo Simon ventured inside with a fastball, Holliday pulled it down the line for a double.

• Tigers manager Brad Ausmus noted this weekend how much James McCann reminds him of Cardinals manager Mike Matheny as a catcher, in his size and his detailed work. Maybe that's not a coincidence: McCann's favorite catcher to watch while growing up in Southern California was Matheny, including how he would block balls thrown in the dirt even while warming up pitchers between innings. Over the weekend, McCann said, Matheny autographed a baseball for him.

• There was conversation within the Tigers organization earlier this season about having Victor Martinez hit only from the right side, rather than as a switch-hitter, because of his ongoing knee issues. But Martinez has been a switch-hitter his entire career and is comfortable doing that.

He needs to change, writes Tony Paul. I disagree. A change like that cannot be pushed. That's something Martinez needs to settle on himself, and he was good enough as a switch-hitter last season to earn a four-year, $68 million deal.

Martinez popped out as a pinch-hitter Sunday, when the Tigers lost to Lance Lynn, Kolten Wong and the Cardinals.

The bottom of the St. Louis lineup came up big.

Jeff Samardzija helped the White Sox finish a sweep.

Noah Syndergaard has to be very intimidating for hitters to face, throwing an explosive fastball at an extreme downhill angle from the mound. He dominated the Brewers on Sunday, as Seth Berkman writes.

The pitcher hit Carlos Gomez in the head Sunday. Gomez turned out OK and forgave the rookie on Twitter, writes Mitch Abramson.


Dings and dents

1. David Wright can resume baseball activities today.

2. Anthony Rendon and Casey Janssen are getting closer to returning, as James Wagner writes.

3. Troy Tulowitzki was out again.

4. Mark Teixeira has a toe issue.

5. Two Phillies starting pitchers went down.

6. Albert Pujols tweaked his leg.


Moves, deals and decisions

1. Red Sox prospect Yoan Moncada is set to make his pro debut this week.

2. Jordy Mercer was benched in favor of Jung Ho Kang.

3. The Twins demoted a slugger.

4. Billy Hamilton was dropped in the Reds' lineup.


Sunday's games

1. The Rays came out swinging.

2. Chris Capuano was activated, and then hit hard.

3. The Diamondbacks were swept.

4. The Red Sox were shut out.

5. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper wrecked the Padres.

6. A.J. Burnett stopped the bleeding for the Pirates.

7. The Twins' bullpen had a rough day.

8. The Rockies were shut out.

9. Hunter Pence is back and it's like the Giants are a completely different team.

10. Oakland is playing terribly, and has the worst record in the majors, as Steve Kroner writes.

11. The Tigers weren't able to complete a sweep, writes Anthony Fenech.

12. For the Angels, a wild pitch was pivotal.

13. Edinson Volquez dominated.

14. Jason Kipnis keeps hitting, but the Indians lost Sunday. At least Carlos Carrasco relieved the bullpen.

15. Kenley Jansen was back to his old form.

16. James Paxton had a strong outing.


AL West

• The Astros are getting a lot of home run production from folks who were with other teams last year, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

Most team HRs by players on different MLB teams last season

Houston Astros: 30 home runs
San Diego Padres: 25
Seattle Mariners: 21
Atlanta Braves: 18
Toronto Blue Jays: 18

• From ESPN Stats & Info on how the Mariners' Paxton beat the Red Sox:

A. Paxton allowed just one hard-hit ball of the 30 balls put in play (3.6 percent), his lowest rate in the past two seasons (14 percent over that span entering Sunday).

B. He challenged hitters with his fastball, throwing the pitch in the strike zone 63 percent of the time, a season high.

C. He induced 13 softly hit balls in play with his fastball, a career high.

D. Over his past two starts (14 innings pitched, zero runs), Paxton has thrown his fastball 84 percent of the time after throwing it 67 percent of the time in his previous six starts.

Josh Hamilton says it's good to be home.

• A bullpen shakeup has helped Texas.


AL Central

• Can Miguel Cabrera reach 3,000 hits and 600 homers?

• A Tigers prospect is showing promise.

Salvador Perez's play makes it tough to rest him.


AL East

Mike Wright was brilliant in his debut for the Orioles. It was everything you could dream of.

• Thirty-eight games into the season, the Red Sox continue to wait for an offensive breakout. Red Sox manager John Farrell isn't planning any major changes.

Mark Buehrle said the Blue Jays stink, after the Astros swept them.

Jake McGee hit 97 mph in his return.

Russell Martin cuts down on thievery.


NL East

Maikel Franco is a player worth watching.


NL Central

• Maturity distinguishes the young Cubs.

• The division title appears to be slipping away from the Pirates, writes Ron Cook.

• Travis Sawchik addresses the question of whether the Pirates should trade for another star player.


NL West

• The Diamondbacks remain confident in their bullpen, writes Nick Piecoro.

Santiago Casilla had a perfect finish.

And today will be better than yesterday.