The Chicago Cubs dropped their protest of the final two outs of the Nationals’ win on Saturday night over what Cubs Manager Joe Maddon deemed an illegal pitching motion by Washington closer Sean Doolittle, but the controversy remained a topic of conversation among both key participants on Sunday.
Before Chicago’s 6-5 win in the series finale at Nationals Park, Maddon told reporters he was sticking up for Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. when he came out of the dugout in the ninth inning on Saturday to protest that Doolittle was tapping his right foot on the ground in the middle of his delivery. Edwards worked on a new delivery during spring training that featured a more pronounced pause than Doolittle’s, only to be informed by Major League Baseball two games into the season that his delivery was illegal. Home plate umpire and crew chief Sam Holbrook determined Doolittle’s toe tap was within the rules.
“I really didn’t anticipate a whole lot to be done with it,” said Maddon, who dropped his protest after consulting with MLB officials, including chief baseball officer Joe Torre. “I still don’t agree with the conclusion because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it. But the point was I would not be a good parent had I not spoken up for my guy, and that’s what I was doing last night — speaking up for Carl. It’s just to eliminate any kind of gray area there for the future because it’s going to happen again somewhere. And you’re just trying to delineate what is right and what is wrong.”
The rule in question is 5.07(a), which states, in part: “The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).”
During Sunday’s broadcast on ESPN, analyst Jessica Mendoza compared Edwards’s illegal delivery, which he was forced to scrap, and Doolittle’s delivery. Mendoza noted that Edwards “clearly steps and places his whole foot on the ground,” while Doolittle “barely nicks the ground.”
Doolittle was irritated by Maddon’s mid-inning protest on Saturday, saying the Cubs manager’s attempt to rattle him was “kind of tired."
“I don’t know, sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game,” Doolittle said after earning his eighth save.
A day later, Doolittle seemed to agree with Maddon that the league needed to address the gray area of the rule.
“We still need further clarification from MLB on this,” Doolittle tweeted after Sunday’s game in response to the news that the Cubs had dropped their protest. “Rule 5.07 says a pitcher can’t take a second step to home with either foot. I don’t really think a toe tap or hesitation violate the spirit of the rule. And it’s not being consistently applied.”
In subsequent tweets, Doolittle stuck up for Edwards and fellow reliever Cory Gearrin of the Mariners, whose delivery, which also features a toe tap, was deemed illegal during a game last week.
“The rule, to me, seems to exist to prevent pitchers from crow hopping down the mound to get closer to home plate,” Doolittle wrote. “I don’t think tapping your foot, as a timing mechanism, violates that rule. And I think Edwards’ and Gearrin’s deliveries should be legal too. I’ve also heard that Edwards originally got his delivery cleared during spring training, then 2 weeks later it was deemed illegal. I realize this is only affecting a few pitchers in the league, but we need clarification so this doesn’t turn into MLB’s version of the tuck rule.”
To Doolittle’s point, before the 2017 season, an addition to Rule 5.07 “formalized an umpire interpretation by stipulating that a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot.” The addendum may have been in response to former Marlins and Padres reliever Carter Capps, whose unusual delivery featured a hop-step toward the plate with his back foot.
“So much of pitching is disrupting timing,” tweeted Doolittle, who ended his thread by letting it be known that he is not, in fact, mad about any of this. “And as long as the strike zone is the size of a cocktail napkin and the ball is flying out of ballparks at historic rates, I think pitchers should be allowed to have a toe tap or hesitation in their delivery if they want but I’m biased.”
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