MINNEAPOLIS — In a span of four days, two major league pitchers have been suspended eight games for putting a foreign substance on the ball. Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz has studied that news carefully.
In 2013, some attention-seeking Blue Jays broadcasters accused Buchholz of doctoring the ball. The righthander admitted only to using rosin, which is legal.
That Red Sox pitchers keep a bottle of sunscreen handy is no secret. They, like pitchers from every team, look for ways to improve their grip on the ball.
“Nobody wants to be suspended,” said Buchholz Monday. “But as far as I know, it’s something that’s understood in the game. You need a grip on the ball, otherwise you don’t know where it’s going.”
Milwaukee’s Will Smith was suspended for eight games Friday and Baltimore’s Brian Matusz received the same punishment Monday. Both have appealed.
Buchholz, who faces the Minnesota Twins Tuesday night, said the ball is slippery, especially on cold or windy days.
“There’s not a whole lot to get a grip on,” he said. “It’s not cheating or improving your performance with a foreign substance. But at some point you have to get a grip on the ball. Rosin works. I got water everywhere all over me when I pitch. You need that coating off the ball.”
Sox manager John Farrell wants the process made more formal. Under the current protocol, the umpires apply mud — there’s an actual product called Baseball Rubbing Mud — to new baseballs before the game. But most pitchers don’t feel that is enough.
“I would like to see an approved substance that pitchers can use,” said Farrell, a former pitcher. “When we take a manufactured baseball and rub it with dirt, it’s going to create a slippery feeling to it. The mud residue leaves a film on it that you don’t necessarily feel a good, consistent grip.”
Pitchers typically use substances such as pine tar or sunscreen to get a better grip on the ball, not to create more movement with their pitches. Hitters support the idea.
“Nobody wants a pitcher to lose control of the ball and hit somebody by accident,” Sox catcher Blake Swihart said. “The idea is to make sure you can hold the ball.”
Farrell believes Major League Baseball needs to look at the issue closely.
“If the belief is a widespread number of pitchers are using it, why would we not look to improve the game?” he said. “No one wants to see pitchers sidelined.”
Said Buchholz, “I’ve never heard a hitter complain about it. Either you throw the ball and you paint it or you don’t and they hit it. It’s better than the alternative of hitting somebody.
“If you have a little bit of savvy, you’re usually OK. But everybody has something and everybody knows that. But hearing about these suspensions, that’s a little different. I don’t want to be suspended and miss two starts.”
Pablo Sandoval started at third base for the first time since taking a fastball off his left knee last Tuesday. He was 0 for 4 in the 7-2 loss against the Twins.
Sandoval, a switch hitter, is 2 for 41 (.049) batting righthanded this season. He is hitting .172 righthanded going back to the start of the 2014 season.
As a pinch hitter, Sandoval batted lefthanded against lefthanded Angels reliever Cesar Ramos on Sunday and singled. He said later that it was a concession to the bone bruise on his left knee and not a sign he planned to give up switch hitting.
“I thought it was really encouraging yesterday — or interesting, not encouraging, but interesting — to see him go left-on-left,” Farrell said. “Whether that’s a sign of things to come, we’ll see. [Having him] in the lineup makes us a better offensive team.”
Farrell said there have been discussions “off and on” with Sandoval about the idea of giving up switch hitting.
“He’s the one who has got to feel the most comfortable in doing it,” Farrell said. “There’s been conversation at various points about that. He’s even initiated at times.”
Hanley Ramirez collected his first RBI this month with a single in the third inning. He had gone 76 plate appearances in May without one . . . When David Ortiz drove in a run in the third inning, it gave him 1,551 RBIs for his career, good for 43d place all-time. Next up is Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, who had 1,555. Ortiz has 23 RBIs in 15 games at Target Field . . . Mike Napoli (2 for 4) is 11 of his last 25 and has improved his batting average from .162 to .211 . . . Xander Bogaerts was 6 for 12 with two RBIs batting fifth in three games against the Angels. He batted seventh Monday and was 0 for 4 . . . Dustin Pedroia (2 for 4) is 4 for 11 in three games as the leadoff hitter . . . Rusney Castillo, 3 for 12 in his first three games, had a day off. Farrell said Castillo would start the final two games of the series.
Pause to remember
The game was briefly paused at 4 p.m. local time as part of the national moment of remembrance on Memorial Day. The teams also wore special uniforms with a digital camouflage pattern on the bill of the cap and within the names, numbers, and logos on the jerseys . . . The Red Sox will play the Twins seven times in a span of 11 days, then not again the rest of the season.