Somewhat quietly, there is a blister epidemic in baseball. Pitchers around the league are dealing with them, and when we talk about blisters on a pitcher's fingers, we're not talking about little dinky blisters you get from a new pair of shoes. These are yucky, gross blisters with shredded skin. You don't want to see them. They're nasty and basically impossible to pitch through.
Friday night Giants righty Johnny Cueto exited his start after only four innings and 82 pitches due to multiple blisters. After the game he had his thumb, index finger, and middle finger taped up. Here's what Cueto told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle:
For the first time, after lasting just four innings and 82 pitches in Friday night's 5-4 victory over the Padres, Cueto acknowledged what others in the game have been suggesting: Baseballs are different this year.
"I think so. Probably," Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "I feel the ball tight. This is the first time I've had blisters in my career."
In the first half, Cueto had blister issues on two fingers. Friday, he had issues with his thumb, too. "Hot spots," manager Bruce Bochy said. "They're not blisters yet, but they feel like blisters, like the last time."
Cueto is not the first pitcher to suggest changes in the baseball itself are causing blisters. Earlier this month Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman was very outspoken about the rash of blisters around baseball and blamed MLB for not doing anything about it. From the Associated Press:
"I feel like it's an epidemic that's happening across the big leagues now, a bunch of pitchers getting blisters, guys who have never had blisters before. So for MLB to turn their back to it, I think that's kind of crazy," the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander said. "I have no theory. But obviously, I mean, it's not a coincidence that it's happening to so many guys all of a sudden. It's not a coincidence."
Among the other pitchers to deal with blisters this season are Red Sox lefty David Price, Dodgers lefty Rich Hill, Diamondbacks righty Taijuan Walker, Mets righty Noah Syndergaard, and Athletics righty Jharel Cotton. There are plenty of others too.
Blisters are not a new problem for pitchers. They've been happening for decades. Now they're happening more than ever before.
Most of the talk about the baseball this year has been about the ball being juiced, leading to the home run spike. MLB has been very sensitive about potential changes to the ball,. Getting the league to acknowledge differences in baseball are leading to pitcher injuries probably won't ever happen.
Are Cueto and Stroman correct? Are changes to the ball resulting in the sudden spike in blisters? It sure sounds plausible. Proving it will be difficult. This much is true though: if changes to the ball are causing blisters and forcing pitchers to miss time, it's bad for baseball, and something MLB should want to fix.