And on the hot topic of foreign substances, Scherzer maintained there is mutual interest between pitchers and hitters for something that allows pitchers to have a strong grip on the ball. Otherwise, he explained, the sport could see more instances such as the one June 6, when Washington pitcher Austin Voth was hit in the face by a 90-mph fastball, breaking his nose.
“Pitchers want to have that tack and hitters want pitchers to have that tack to prevent serious injury. That’s the delicate balance that we’re having to play with,” Scherzer said Monday, using the word “tack” as a stand-in for grip. “We understand it’s gone beyond just pine tar, that there’s been bad actors throughout the game. Teams have been bad actors in this in trying to find ways to create substances that are beyond just pine tar to try to actually influence spin rate instead of trying to use a substance to keep the ball from slipping out of the pitcher’s hands.
“In a lot of players’ minds, there’s a big difference between the two. So that’s where the issue’s at.”
On Tuesday, MLB announced that a crackdown would begin next Monday. To eliminate the use of foreign substances, umpires will regularly check starters and relievers, whether there is suspicion or not. Any player found using foreign substances will be ejected and subject to a 10-game suspension, which is in line with precedent. Pitchers will be allowed to use rosin on the mound but not to combine rosin with other substances.
But even before the new rules were announced, Scherzer didn’t feel players would have much say in how the situation was resolved.
“The players should have a say in this. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will,” he said Monday. “It just appears that MLB is going to do whatever they want with this.”
On Monday morning, Scherzer was named in a Sports Illustrated story about Bubba Harkins, a former visiting clubhouse manager for the Los Angeles Angels who supplied foreign substances to pitchers before he was fired in March 2020. Star pitchers Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright were among others also named in the report. The article alleged Harkins received multiple text messages from a Nationals staffer’s number, asking for sticky stuff on Scherzer’s behalf.
In one text sent in February 2017, the staffer wrote: “Bubba, Max need 2 batches please.” In another text from February 2018, the staffer wrote: “Bubba, Max needs the stuff ASAP. He will pay for overnight shipping please.” SI reported that a response from the staffer’s phone number included the address of the Nationals’ spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Harkins filed a defamation lawsuit against Major League Baseball that a judge dismissed. Harkins is appealing that decision. Scherzer declined to comment on the article Monday.
“The Nationals have asked that I don’t comment on that yet until that resolves,” said Scherzer, whose name appears in the lawsuit along with some of the details SI reported this week. “When that does, then we can have a conversation.”
As a leading member of the players’ union, Scherzer has discussed foreign substances with teammates and many players around the league. Through those conversations, he has sensed a common goal of identifying grip-enhancing substances. His manager, Dave Martinez, has pushed for that sort of resolution in recent weeks.
The Nationals felt additional urgency when Voth was struck in the face on a warm day in Philadelphia. When asked how to differentiate between substances that increase spin rate and those that help with grip, Scherzer paused, thought through it and returned to hitters publicly vouching for better grip to avoid errant fastballs. MLB did not make a distinction in its memo, promising to regulate any substances aside from rosin.
On the subject of batter safety, MLB noted in its memo: “The evidence does not suggest a correlation between improved hitter safety and the use of foreign substances. In fact, the hit-by-pitch ratio has increased along with the prevalence of foreign substance use.”
“There’s definitely elements of the balls that affect different guys. Also, we play in different elements,” Scherzer said Monday. “We play in hot weather, cold weather, dry weather, humid weather — all the different types of elements affect grip. That’s one thing pitchers as a whole have said why you want tack. You’re making different starts in different climates constantly throughout the year that affect the type of grip you have over the baseball.
“If we all played in indoor domes, like in Tampa, and had 72 degrees, okay. Different story. But that’s not the case. We’re in different environments constantly throughout the year. So for the hitter’s safety, that’s why the practice has been to have a substance to provide tack to prevent the ball slipping out of your hand. It’s not to get better control, or better command. It’s so that the ball doesn’t slip.”