Is there a better way to check pitchers for foreign substances?

So, what happens now? What happens when the Nationals and Phillies take the field again at 1:05 p.m. today for the finale of this quick, two-game series at Citizens Bank Park?

Will the mandatory, between-innings checks of both teams’ pitchers by umpires looking for foreign substances continue without issue? Will either Joe Girardi or Davey Martinez try to one-up the other and request an extra examination of the opposing pitcher, as Girardi did Tuesday night with Max Scherzer, setting off a furor across baseball?

Is this how it’s going to continue to go the rest of the season, with pitchers holding their arms out, unbuckling their belts, umpires running their fingers through pitchers’ hair in search of something sticky?

Umpires-Check-Scherzer's-Head-Sidebar.jpgIf Scherzer has any say in the matter, it won’t continue like this.

“Hopefully, the players across the league understand that what we’re doing right now, this is not the answer,” the Nationals ace and prominent member of the Major League Baseball Players Association said Tuesday night during his long Zoom session with reporters.

That certainly seems to be the prevailing feeling across the sport following the first two days of mandatory, after-inning checks of pitchers, even though most seem to agree something does need to be done to rid baseball of the most egregious foreign substances that are being used not for grip but to increase spin for competitive advantage.

“I feel like there’s a minority group of players here that have made it public how they feel about pitchers and how they’re going about it,” Scherzer continued. “And I completely understand: There is a problem with Spider Tack in the game, and we’ve got to get rid of that. But I also think there’s a way to handle this in a better way.”

What’s the solution? Scherzer believes it can be done inside the clubhouse instead of on the field, by impartial observers who are already there making sure everyone’s following COVID-19 protocols.

“Right now we have monitors in our clubhouses, for the mask police,” the right-hander said. “That’s what we have. What I’ve articulated, one of my solutions that I feel would be best to handle this is to have those monitors - instead of worrying about our masks - actually check the pitchers in between innings. Let those guys examine what (pitchers’) hands look like, what substances are they using. ...

“For me, that seems to be a more pragmatic approach for how we can continue to monitor the situation, to try to correct the situation, before going to zero (enforcement).”

Scherzer and the rest of the Nationals were careful not to specifically criticize Girardi or anyone else with the Phillies for how they handled the situation Tuesday night. They also have been sympathetic to umpires who are now in the awkward position of trying to enforce a rule that hadn’t been enforced for decades.

If anything, Scherzer directed most of his ire Tuesday night to commissioner Rob Manfred’s office, which imposed these new checks on the sport in mid-season, without formal consultation with the MLBPA.

“These are Manfred rules,” the future Hall of Famer said. “Go ask him what he wants to do with this. I’ve said enough.”

That might be wishful thinking, because the odds of this issue not cropping up again and Scherzer not being asked to address it are awfully slim.

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