The most telling comment during L’Affaire Buchholz came from Red Sox catcher David Ross, who said that Clay Buchholz throws back scuffed baseballs. In the past, scuffed baseballs were like gold for pitchers who would know how to use the scuff mark to create movement.
Now most pitchers, mostly the younger ones, ask for that ball to be taken out of play.
“You see that all the time now,” said a former major league coach who is now an adviser. “When I was coaching the pitcher would throw the scuffed ball away. Back when we played, a scuffed ball was something the pitcher could take advantage of. These guys today don’t know how to doctor the ball.”
That’s not to say that pitchers still don’t have methods to grip the ball better, such as a little dab of pine tar or a little moisture. After all, the balls are slicker than they used to be. It’s harder to get a good grip or feel on the ball so pitchers use rosin. The baseball people we spoke to on this subject last week acknowledge — though anonymously — that the use of pine tar by pitchers is widespread and acceptable as long as it’s not openly visible to the other team and the umpires.
This is what makes the Buchholz saga a little strange.
You rarely hear about pitchers getting caught doctoring the ball, because for the most part, they don’t know how and the opposing team usually doesn’t turn them in unless it’s blatant, such as Game 2 of the 2006 World Series when Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called out Detroit lefthander Kenny Rogers. Rogers, who pitched eight shutout innings, had an obvious dark brown tint on his fingers from excessive pine tar.
“I sense that it’s not very prevalent anymore,” one special assistant to an American League general manager said about pitchers doctoring the ball.
John Smoltz used to keep some pine tar on his shoe tops and he’d occasionally bend down and put some on his fingertips for a better grip.
Against the Blue Jays last Wednesday, Buchholz seemed to have a combination of rosin and water. He douses himself with a bottle of water on his head and puts a little on his hip between innings. He acknowledged putting some rosin on his forearms and arm. When water and/or sweat engages with rosin, it can produce a sticky, pasty substance.
Toronto analyst Dirk Hayhurst first brought Buchholz’s “doctoring” to light during a radio show and tweeted about it. Blue Jays commentator Jack Morris accused Buchholz of throwing spitballs.
It would appear Buchholz was trying to create a better grip. His pitches don’t need more movement.
“Just watching Buchholz, he doesn’t need anything to make his pitches move,” longtime Nationals scout Bob Schaefer said. “He’s got great movement on all of his pitches. Sometimes some of these guys have to justify why someone is pitching so well against them, or some announcer trying to justify how smart they are.”
Because this generation of pitchers throws more cutters, splits, and two-seamers, trying to create movement by doctoring the ball is less prevalent than it was a generation ago.
“Teams really don’t even pay attention to it anymore,” said a coach for an American League team. “I think it’s well known that pitchers are going to use rosin and they’re going to use some pine tar. So even if you see it, so what? That’ll just bring attention to your own guys and you don’t want that to happen.”
“Really for the last 15 years or so, loading up the ball hasn’t been a big issue with pitchers,” said Arizona general manager Kevin Towers. “Think about it, it takes a lot of effort and a knack to be able to scuff a baseball or doctor it and get the desired result from that. It’s not something you’re going to spend a lot of time on.
“In the case of Buchholz, here’s a guy who is on top of his game, doing all the right things out there, and to have something like that thrown out there is just unfair. Sometimes you just have to give credit where credit is due and Clay Buchholz deserves a lot of credit.”
Joel Peralta was the last player to get caught. Umpire Tim Tschida tossed the Rays reliever out of a game before he even threw a pitch last June 19 for what was deemed an excessive amount of pine tar in Peralta’s glove hand, confiscated the glove, and tossed him from the game.
A little pine tar never hurt anyone, whether it’s a hitter trying to get a good grip on his bat or a pitcher using a little to grip a baseball, especially in a climate like Colorado. What we’ve come to find is teams don’t care about pine tar or rosin. The only thing they would have a problem with is baby oil or Vaseline or something that creates more movement in pitches.
“We used to have a pitcher who put some baby oil underneath the brim of his cap and one day he was sweating so much it kind of got all over his face and the umpire noticed,” said an American League coach.
The reason most of the people we spoke to believe Buchholz doesn’t cheat is that those who do need to compensate for being a little short on velocity. Buchholz has no such problem.
Ortiz putting on a hit show
It would be a shame if David Ortiz can’t stay healthy.
There is no doubt that he is still a force offensively, Boston’s best hitter, and one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Ortiz entered Saturday hitting .465, and even his outs are hit hard. Ortiz’s batting eye is locked in right now.
“I’m seeing the ball and hitting the ball good,” Ortiz said. “I just keep going out there, seeing and hitting the ball. I’m keeping it simple right now. I’m not trying to do too much and the hits are falling. And some hits get taken away. I’m still not 100 percent down there [pointing to his legs].”
He has ice packs on both heels after every game. Yes, he is running fairly well, but how many more times will he have to extend himself before he feels something? After a leadoff double in the sixth last Wednesday, Ortiz looked slow and treaded softly going to third on Will Middlebrooks’s single. John Farrell gave him Thursday off.
Ortiz is getting the most out of his at-bats. He feared back in spring training he wouldn’t get many pitches to hit, but having Mike Napoli hitting behind him has solved that. Napoli has been a huge threat (he entered Saturday leading the majors in RBIs), and that has translated in Ortiz getting more quality pitches to hit.
An occasional shift may take away a hit on a hard-hit grounder, but for the most part Ortiz has hit lined shots all over the field. And all he does is draw rave reviews from the opposition. Toronto’s Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and J.P. Arencibia marvel at what he can still do.
Ortiz has proven he still can dominate. He’s proven that spring training is overrated. He missed the whole camp while trying to recuperate from an Achilles’ strain. As he began running, he started experiencing soreness in both heels, unrelated to the Achilles’ injury. And that’s basically what prevented him from being ready at the start of the season.
When we spoke very early in camp, Ortiz made it clear that he was not going to rush back. He had been told by so many people — from Shaquille O’Neill to Ryan Howard — that you don’t rush Achilles’ injuries because they can get worse. Ortiz heeded their advice. When he felt something, he stopped.
Apropos of nothing
1. Since being fired by the Phillies after the 2000 season, Terry Francona is 21-8 (.724) managing the Red Sox and Indians against Philadelphia.
2. Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves loves Clay Buchholz’s split-fingered pitch and hopes he’ll take it out of storage at some point this season just to confuse hitters even more.
3. Nice of Chipper Jones to stop and see his friend Adam LaRoche and offer some hitting advice to the slumping Nationals first baseman.
4. It was almost predictable that Jose Iglesias would be emotionally and mentally down after a hot start with the Red Sox resulted in a demotion to Pawtucket because Stephen Drew returned from his rehab start. But this is the time to grow up. “He just needs to show consistency,” Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina said. “He’s got to be consistent in all phases of the game and he knows that.” Iglesias committed a couple of errors recently on routine ground balls, a sign his head wasn’t completely in the game.
5. DiSarcina says Sox outfield prospect Bryce Brentz reminds him of Jay Buhner.
6. Even though Matt Moore has been stellar, the Rays obviously miss having James Shields to bolster their rotation.
7. Interesting aspect to the June draft — a competitive balance round agreed upon in the new collective bargaining agreement. Balance rounds give lowest-revenue teams and in the smallest markets the opportunity to obtain additional draft picks through a lottery. The 10 teams with the lowest revenues and the 10 teams in the smallest markets entered a lottery for the six selections (34-39) after the first round. The eligible teams that did not receive one of the six picks went into a second lottery for picks 69-73. Only five picks will be made in that first batch of six because Cleveland forfeited its pick with the free agent signing of outfielder Michael Bourn.
8. The surprising Rockies have the most homegrown players on the All-Star ballot with six. The Orioles, Royals, Cardinals, Angels, Twins, Phillies, and Reds each have five. The Oakland Athletics have the fewest with one.
9. The Cubs had 14 players make their team debut in April, the most for Chicago in a calendar month in 98 seasons. The 1955 and 1982 Cubs both had 13 players debut in April.
Updates on 9
1. Jerry Sands, OF, Pirates — He has gotten off to a poor start at Triple A Indianapolis (.138 through 80 at-bats), but Sands, whom the Red Sox acquired in last summer’s blockbuster with the Dodgers and then flipped to Pittsburgh in the Joel Hanrahan deal, is playing good defense. “I know people don’t mention his defense too often, but he’s a major league right fielder,” said Indy hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo. “He’s won a couple of games for us in the field and we’re trying hard every day to get him going offensively because he has a lot of power.”
2. Javier Vazquez, RHP, free agent — Teams are monitoring his recovery from knee surgery because he could be coaxed back to the mound to provide a solid mid-rotation starter. Vazquez pitched winter ball and wanted to return to the majors, but then had the knee issue and indicated he was likely not returning. That may not be etched in stone if someone dangles the right contract.
3. Ron Gardenhire, manager, Twins — He doesn’t have a contract for next year, but Gardenhire is earning one with Minnesota’s better-than-expected start. Gardenhire has the pitching staff performing well and the lineup has exceeded expectations. Don’t be surprised if Gardenhire gets an extension during the season to eliminate the lame-duck status.
4. Dee Gordon, SS, Dodgers — With Hanley Ramirez back on the disabled list, the Dodgers recalled Gordon from Triple A Albuquerque, where he was hitting .314 and was 14 of 16 in steal attempts. Ramirez is signed through 2014, so the Dodgers may eventually move Gordon to second base — unless they feel they can sign Robinson Cano as a free agent after the season. The Dodgers are unlikely to pick up the $5.75 million option on Mark Ellis.
5. J.J. Putz, closer, Diamondbacks — Putz had four blown saves entering the weekend, one fewer than he had in 2012, and the same number he had in 2011. He’s had some inconsistent velocity, between 94-95 miles per hour to 90-91, and his splitter has stayed up in the strike zone at times. “We’ve overloaded him early in the season,” general manager Kevin Towers said. “We’ve had him in high-leverage situations, close games, and we’ve pitched him back-to-back and we’ve seen that drop-off in velocity. We have to manage him better. He’s 36 and we need to give him more time and make sure he’s not overworked.”
6. Yunel Escobar, SS, Rays — Joe Maddon said in spring training he looked forward to having Escobar solidify the defense and provide some offense. But Escobar’s defense hasn’t been very good, and he was hitting .174 through Friday. The Rays desperately need offense out of Escobar. “It simply hasn’t materialized yet with Escobar,” said one AL talent evaluator. “When you pick up a guy with some baggage you hope it starts out pretty well so you can justify the player, but so far the lackluster play makes the selection look sketchy.”
7. Jake Peavy, RHP, White Sox — He’s on the disabled list again, but he’s going to be very much in demand before the trading deadline if the White Sox start selling off. “He’s a great fit for a team like Baltimore,” said one National League GM. “They’re looking to add that veteran, battle-tested pitcher to really finish off their staff and that Peavy type would be ideal.” Money is always an issue in Baltimore, and Peavy’s deal might deter them. Cliff Lee of the Phillies would also be an ideal guy, but he too comes with a steep price tag.
8. Chase Headley, 3B, Padres — The Padres are willing to offer him a long-term deal. Headley prefers not to negotiate during the season. So if you’re San Diego, what do you do? One theory is that the Padres would be crazy not to deal Headley at the trading deadline for a boatload of prospects considering they’re going nowhere this season. As a third baseman, Headley would be in great demand.
9. Justin Upton, OF, Braves — Nobody quite understands why, but one of the theories on why he has been able to hit for so much power early is because he hasn’t been pitched inside very often. “It’s the strangest thing,” said one National League GM. “That’s the way you get him out and teams aren’t challenging him. They’re letting him extend those hands and he’ll hurt you that way.” The situation is just fine for Upton, who will keep taking advantage.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Since July 23, 2011, the 0-4 Josh Beckett has gone 12-22.” Also, Orioles catchers have a 60 percent caught-stealing rate, throwing out 9 of 15 base runners. On the other hand, the Jays, Angels, A’s, and Red Sox catchers have a 14 percent success rate in throwing out stealers.” . . . Belated happy birthday (Friday) to Nate Spears (28) and Ryan Dempster (36).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.