Clay Buchholz

Pine tar – if everyone’s using it, what’s the big fuss?

By Jim Monaghan

Note – the following contains material originally published on RedSoxLife.com.

Michael Pineda 4-23-14 pine tar

Photo courtesy of NBCsports.com

In the 2nd inning of the Yankees-Red Sox game on April 23rd, Boston manager John Farrell called time and approached the home plate umpire. After a few words, Gerry Davis approached the mound where Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda was waiting. After checking Pineda’s throwing hand and glove, he asked the right hander to turn around. It was then that Davis noticed something on Pineda’s neck. After touching it with his hand, Davis announced it was pine tar and threw Pineda out of the game.

“I could see it from the dugout,” Farrell said after the game. “It was confirmed by a number of camera angles in the ballpark. And given the last time we faced him, I felt like it was a necessity to say something.”

Michael  Pineda 4-10-14 pine tar

Photo courtesy of WEEI.com

Farrell’s reference was to a game between the two teams on April 10 when Pineda was noticed to have a substance that appeared to be wet on his throwing hand, something that was caught on camera by both the Yankees and Red Sox television crews. That substance disappeared an inning later before the Red Sox could bring it to an umpire’s attention, and following the game Pineda tried to claim it was dirt.

Farrell said something in his post-game press conference that night that Pineda might want to be more discreet about putting something on his pitching hand, and Major League Baseball was said to have had a conversation with Pineda about the incident.

As the scene was unfolding with Davis & Pineda, Yankee broadcasters John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman launched into a tirade about how this could eventually backfire on the Red Sox because of their own pitchers’ use of something on the ball, most notably Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. The drama played out on social media and on call-in shows in both New York and Boston over the next few days.

Jon  Lester - resinYou may recall that shortly after Lester’s dominant outing in the Red Sox 8-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the 2013 World Series, the allegations started flying – LESTER WAS UP TO SOME FUNNY BUSINESS WITH HIS GLOVE!

Whether prompted by the parent club or not, Cardinals minor leaguer Tyler Melling tweeted out a photo of Lester (the tweet was almost immediately deleted by Melling) that showed what appeared to be some kind of green substance on the thumb of Lester’s glove.

In response to the predicted reaction, Boston manager Farrell said, “If you know Jon Lester, he sweats like a pig and he needs resin. And you know what? He keeps it in his glove. Other guys will keep it on their arm. Other guys will keep it on their pant leg. So that’s my response to the allegations. The one thing that seemed very odd is that it shows up in a lime green color. I don’t know how that can happen.”

In looking at various video clips and gifs that were subsequently posted on the Internet, it was obvious that Lester was indeed going to his glove for something. For his part, Lester acknowledged that the green substance looked “like a giant booger” while maintaining that all he’s ever used is resin.  Before each game, one of the umpires places a resin bag on the mound for pitchers to use.  Why Lester felt he had to put the same substance in his glove is probably up for discussion.

The fact is, use of a substance such as pine tar or resin by pitchers is commonplace, especially in colder weather. And while it’s technically illegal for players to use pine tar for anything other than helping with gripping a bat, it’s usage by pitchers is also well-known throughout the game leading some to believe that there is almost tacit approval of the practice. One former MLB pitcher told me, “I usually used pine tar. Using something in the cold weather really helps with the grip.”

I also spoke with a former MLB catcher who added, “When it’s cold out, 99% of pitchers use something for a grip. Always have…always will.”

One former minor league pitcher learned about using some kind of sticky substance from a former MLB pitcher. “I used pine tar most of the time (I was pitching), hot or cold weather. Better grip creates better rotation, thus better movement.” And another former minor league pitcher added that he would use pine tar, leaving it mostly on the end of the lace off the pinkie finger of his glove. “It gave me a better grip in the cold, and (when it wasn’t cold) I felt I got a better bite on my sinker.”

Opinions on whether a little pine tar on a pitcher’s fingers adds movement to a pitch vary. Speaking on the subject a few nights ago on the MLB Network, former Braves elite pitcher John Smoltz said he didn’t feel that it did anything to help the baseball move in a way it’s not supposed to.  And know that umpires are well aware of the ball moving in an unnatural way.  Remember, they see pretty much exactly what the hitter sees.

Pitchers aren’t the only ones with a little extra in their gloves, either. A former minor league infielder once told me he used pine tar in his glove to help the ball stay in, as well as to help stiffen the glove (he liked to have a nice wide pocket). And former Red Sox utility player Lou Merloni, now a co-host on WEEI’s Mut & Merloni midday show, has repeatedly said on the air that he used pine tar on occasion for a better grip when throwing the ball; he also said that he knew of some catchers who had a little something extra in their mitts for the same reason.

As for how hitters feel about it, most of the former professional hitters I’ve spoken with said they accept it as a part of the game. Their sentiments were echoed by Farrell who added this in his post-game comments following Game One of the 2013 World Series – “I know talking to our own hitters, they want to be sure that a pitcher has got a complete grip of the baseball. Last night and in this series, there are pitchers on both sides that are going to be mid to upper 90s‑type velocity. If a hitter in the batter box has a little more comfort knowing the pitcher has a good grip, then maybe they’re a little more at ease as well.”

So it would appear that Michael Pineda broke one of baseball’s many unwritten rules – use it, but for crying out loud be a little discreet, wouldya? The common hiding places are well-known – a piece of lace hanging from the pinky finger of a glove, under the bill of a player’s cap, inside the belt…the list goes on and on. Just don’t leave a 4-inch schmear of it on your neck.

Jim Monaghan can be heard Monday through Friday mornings on the WDHA Morning Jolt from 6-10AM & Sundays from 7-10AM with “All Mixed Up.” He’s also an instructor at Professional Baseball Instruction in Upper Saddle River. Follow him on twitter – @Monaghan21.

MLB Preview: Red Sox, Defenders Of The Crown

jonlesterJon Lester’s season is the key to the Red Sox season.

 

by Drew Sarver

Key Acquisitions: A.J. Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore, Edward Mujica, Brian Badenhop

Key Losses: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Dempster

 

The 2013 Boston Red Sox proved that with the right mix of players and a manager that is respected by the players (and puts his players first), anything is possible. The 2012 Red Sox team was the polar opposite of last year’s sqyad. Manager Bobby Valentine and his inflated sense of self was a disastrous choice to replace two-time World Series winner Terry Francona. The team was bogged down with bloated contracts for players who were either full of excuses for losing (Adrian Gonzalez), couldn’t stay healthy (Carl Crawford), or were too self-involved (Josh Beckett).

The team’s turnaround began when an infusion of  cash, from new ownership, made the Los Angeles Dodgers all giddy. They took Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett off the Red Sox hands, instantly changing the dynamic in Boston’s locker room, and lowered the Red Sox total payroll.

Then came the inevitable ax to Valentine, who basically blamed the players for everything that went wrong in a 69-win season. Former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was released from his contract as Toronto’s manager and was hired as Valentine’s replacement. Order was instantly restored to the Red Sox clubhouse. With the additions of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Ryan DempsterStephen Drew, Jake Peavy, and Koji Uehera, the team won 97 games and their third World Series title in 10 years.

The 2014 team faces the task of trying to repeat, something the Red Sox have not done since 1915-1916. The team’s lineup is basically the same with the addition of rookie/top prospect Xander Bogaerts  replacing Drew at shortstop and veteran Grady Sizemore  taking over center field with the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury to the rival Yankees. Sizemore, who hasn’t had a Major League at-bat in three years, beat out Jackie Bradley Jr. for the job.

Will Middlebrooks will get the chance for regular at-bats at third base provided he shows more consistency than he did last year. The Texas native has hit 32 home runs in 615 career at-bats so he’s capable of a 25-30 home run-season, if he sticks in the lineup. The team has prided itself on defense and are gambling that the offense provided by Middlebrooks and Bogaerts will offset what may be a rough time in the field for the duo.

With the departure of free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia, GM Ben Cherington brought in veteran A.J. Pierzynski to get the bulk of at-bats as the starting catcher. The 37-year old still has pop in his bat (37 home runs over the last two seasons), but will need help from the Red Sox pitchers to cut down on the number of stolen bases he normally allows.

The offense, will of course, rely on mainstays David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, as well as Mike Napoli, who was arguably the most clutch hitter in the Red Sox lineup.

LINEUP

C: A.J. Pierzynski
1B: Mike Napoli
2B: Dustin Pedroia
SS: Xander Bogaerts
3B: Will Middlebrooks
LF: Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes
CF: Grady Sizemore
RF: Shane Victorino
DH: David Ortiz

 

Getting rid of Josh Beckett in 2012 not only freed up money, but took a bad influence away from the team’s younger pitchers. The team now looks to their ace, Jon Lester, and veteran John Lackey, who exceeded expectations last year after he underwent Tommy John surgery and sat out the 2012 season. Joining them in the rotation are Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy.

Buchholz’s health is a major concern. He was phenomenal last year (12-1, 1.74 ERA, 1.025 WHIP), but made just 16 starts due to a neck injury. In 2011, he was limited to 14 appearances with a back injury.  Farrell has to wonder if Buchholz’s body can withstand a 180-plus inning workload, like the one he produced in 2012.

Doubront’s has made 56 starts over the last two seasons, with mixed results.  Doubront will throw a lot of pitches past people, but some of those pitches won’t be near the strike zone. He’s averaged four walks a game the last two years and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Peavy came over at the trade deadline last year and made 10 regular season starts. Two of his three post-season appearances were a disaster, but he’s a good man to have in the back of your rotation. Should the Red Sox need another starter during the season, they could go with veteran Chris Capuano, or minor league left-hander Henry Owens, who will start the season at Pawtucket.

ROTATION

SP: Jon Lester
SP: John Lackey
SP: Felix Doubront
SP: Clay Buchholz
SP: Jake Peavy

BULLPEN

Koeji Uehara was a Godsend for the Red Sox last year, just as important to the Red Sox as any other player on the roster. After closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey went down with season ending injuries, Uehara stepped up and was outstanding in the closer role. He picked up 21 saves and struck out better than 12 batters per nine innings. He was even better in the post-season. In his 13 appearances, Uehara allowed one earned run in 13.2 innings pitched, struck out 16 hitters, and saved seven of the Red Sox 11 post-season wins. The Japanese native will turn 39 the first week of the season, but shows no sign of slowing down.

Holdover Junichi Tazawa and newcomer Edward Mujica, the former Cardinals reliever, will share the set up duties to Uehara. Capuano, Craig Breslow, Burke Badenhop, and Rubby De La Rosa will be among the long relievers and middle men in the pen.

BENCH

Depending on the opposing pitcher, Farrell can flip flop Nava, Gomes, Sizemore, Victorino, and Mike Carp between the outfield and the bench. Nava and Carp will also give Napoli a break now and then at first base.  David Ross will be the back up to Pierzynski at catcher. Jonathan Herrera will likely be the utility infielder, though it woudn’t be surprising to see the Red Sox pick up a veteran castoff prior to the start of the season.

 OUTLOOK

Despite the departures of Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia, and the concern over defense on the left side of the infield, the Red Sox enter the season as the favorites to repeat as the AL East winners.

 

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.