It took fewer than two full days for Major League Baseball's new foreign substance policy to stir up some controversy. The league has Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi and Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer to thank.
Scherzer, for his part, appeared outwardly dismayed when the umpiring crew checked his hat and his glove for foreign substances twice over the first three frames Tuesday night. Girardi, perhaps detecting that he could further fluster Scherzer, then asked the umpires to check him once more during the bottom of the fourth inning. That's when things went sideways.
Scherzer responded to the umpires' third inquisition by removing his cap and glove and undoing his belt. Nationals manager Davey Martinez, who had walked to the mound during the inspection, appeared upset by Girardi, and pointed at the Phillies dugout until Girardi popped out onto the field.
The game proceeded like normal until Scherzer completed his night with a fifth inning of work. Afterward, Scherzer stared down Girardi on his way to the dugout. Girardi took exception, both to Scherzer's glaze and verbal brickbats from the Nationals' coaching staff, at which point he again came onto the field. At that point, the umpires ejected Girardi.
After the game, Girardi told reporters (including USA Today's Gabe Lacques) that he asked for Scherzer to be checked for substances after noticing how often he was running his hands through his hair. "I saw him going to his hair. And I've never seen him doing that, ever," Girardi said.
In response, Scherzer said that he was having difficulty establishing a good grip on the ball and wanted to combine his sweat with rosin to improve his command. On Wednesday, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo shot back at Girardi, calling him a "con artist" who asked for the foreign substance check to disrupt Scherzer.
"It's embarrassing for Girardi. It's embarrassing for the Phillies. Was he playing games? Of course he was," Rizzo said during an interview with 106.7 The Fan (per JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington). "He's a con artist."
MLB's memo on the new foreign substance policies included the following section on what would happen if a manager was abusing the spirit of the rule:
Please note that a manager will be subject to discipline if he makes the request in bad faith (e.g., a request intended to disrupt the pitcher in a critical game situation, a routine request that is not based on observable evidence, etc.)
It's unclear if Girardi will be subject to additional punishment, or how MLB will dictate who is and who isn't operating in good faith.
Scherzer's final line on the night saw him throw five innings, allow a run on two hits and three walks, and strike out eight batters. Interestingly, Scherzer's spin rates were down from his seasonal norm, according to Statcast's data. His fastball had 133 fewer rpms, while his slider was minus 211 rpms. While there's no definitive evidence that Scherzer had used Spider Tack or other foreign substances at any point, he was one of several star pitchers named in a lawsuit filed by a former Los Angeles Angels clubhouse attendant.