After giving up seven runs to the Mariners over the first four innings, Michael Lorenzen was just trying to soak up at least one or two more innings for the Angels on Friday night and give the bullpen a slight break ahead of Saturday’s doubleheader at T-Mobile Park.
With two outs in the fifth inning and facing Justin Upton, who was his teammate just a few months ago in spring training, Lorenzen fired a 2-2 fastball intended for the lower inside corner of the strike zone.
Instead, the 91-mph fastball rocketed toward Upton’s head, striking him on the helmet between the bill and the crown and knocking him to the ground.
A stunned Upton remained on the ground as he talked to manager Scott Servais while athletic trainers Kyle Torgerson and Taylor Bennett checked on him. Upton eventually walked off the field and was back in the lineup on Saturday afternoon as the designated hitter.
Visibly upset after hitting Upton, Lorenzen was just as upset after the game when discussing what happened with the pitch.
“I don’t know what Major League Baseball is playing with these baseballs, but that fully slipped out of my hand,” he told the Orange County Register. “It’s just crazy, man. As a kid you feel like Major League Baseball is the greatest thing ever, and you get here and you realize, what are they doing? All of a sudden they’re going to change the baseballs. I know (Kevin) Gausman had an issue in Toronto. So it’s a league-wide thing. These baseballs are slick. They did get someone hurt. So that’s on Major League Baseball for sure. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Later in the game, reliever Ryan Tepera tossed about three different baseballs to the dugout and kept asking umpire Hunter Wendelstedt for new ones because they felt slick.
“These baseballs are straight out of the package — every single one of them, so you can throw them out all you want,” Lorenzen said. “It started last night. Throw them all out all you want to get new ones, but they’re all like that. It looks like league-wide. It looks like a planned operation, which is ridiculous.”
Per reports, Lorenzen never used the slick baseballs as a reason for his poor performance, only hitting Upton.
Angels interim manager Phil Nevin offered thoughts before Saturday’s doubleheader.
“We’ve been getting a bunch over here in the dugout, they’re basically right out of the box,” he said. “It’s scary. The ball that hit Upton, as Lo said, it slipped right out of his hand. He feels terrible for hitting him. But as he said, he had a hard time gripping the ball when they’re not rubbed up like that. There’s only so much you can do when you get a ball on the mound.”
Besides Lorenzen, Gausman and Yimi Garcia of the Blue Jays as well as Chris Bassitt of the Mets have voiced similar complaints.
“I know (the Mariners) are using the same ones,” Nevin said. “A couple guys threw some balls out that they didn’t like that I noticed during the game.”
In the Mariners clubhouse, there was a knowing nod from pitchers when asked about it.
Robbie Ray, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Friday night, said the baseballs early in the game were better but they seemed to get slicker as the game went on. He pointed to the number of baseballs that are rubbed up and approved to start the game and the number that get fouled off, thrown into the crowd or removed due to scuffing.
“I don’t know if they run out of the rubbed-up balls and they are scrambling to get more rubbed up, but it seems like the balls later in the game are slicker,” he said.
But it isn’t just the variation from early in the game to late in the game. It changes from stadium to stadium.
“It’s different in every stadium,” Ray said. “The balls here have been some of the slickest. I know they have a guy back there rubbing them up and they have to be approved so I’m not sure how they are doing it or why they are so different from stadium to stadium.”
Reliever Penn Murfee, who replaced Ray in the eighth inning Friday and retired the three hitters he faced with a strikeout, was not pleased with the feel of the baseballs.
“Yeah, they’re pretty bad here,” he said. “Not having gone in the early part of the game, I don’t know how the starters feel. But I mean, there’s been other guys in the bullpen who I’ve spoken to at length here. And I think that T-Mobile out of all the parks we’ve been to have been some of the hardest baseballs to throw.”
Murfee doesn’t think it’s the weather.
“There’s still the sheen on the baseball,” he said. “There’s like that shiny kind of thing. It’s been really bad for me, personally, the past three outings. In two of them I’ve thrown decently well, so it’s not even like I’m upset about the outcome. One of them didn’t go my way, but just in general, it’s been very uncomfortable and very difficult to throw.”
The discomfort isn’t hitting a player in the head, which is the worst possible scenario, but just not being able to feel like it can be controlled, let alone commanded.
“It’s just, it’s a mental comfort thing,” Murfee said. “It’s just that slight bit of ‘this doesn’t feel great.’ It makes all the difference in the world. It’s not like you’re out there trying to throw something with snot covered all over it. It’s not like it’s trying to jump out of your hand. But it’s that slight thing in the back of your head: ‘I just know that I don’t have as good of a grip on this baseball.’ ”
When Tepera was tossing away baseballs because they weren’t rubbed up in the eighth inning, it was something Murfee had seen before from other relievers.
“I felt his pain,” he said. “I’ve been there. It’s hard. I’ve tossed a couple balls out and I get another one back and it’s like the same one. Because this is our home field and I’ve pitched here before, I know the balls are bad. So I kind of give up searching for the perfect golden goose. But it’s been frustrating. It sucks when you get a ball and you’re like, ‘I’m supposed to throw my pitch with this?’ It’s slippery. It’s not rubbed up.”
Ray didn’t want to talk too much about the baseball itself. To him it was about the preparation of them.
“I’ve been pitching in this league for eight years and every year the baseball has been different,” he said. “I expect the baseballs to be different. They are hand-stitched so they are all going to be a little different. The baseball is the baseball, but supposedly the rub they put on is something that’s supposed to be universal and something we can control. I think that’s the biggest issue.”
Murfee, who was scolded for placing rosin on his glove wrist recently, has a solution.
“We should be able to use some form of sticky stuff,” he said. “There’s plenty of substances we know that don’t increase action, spin rate and don’t give any added bonus effects to, like, your pitch shapes. Why can’t we frickin’ use it? Yeah, you want guys to get hit in the head? Be my guest, MLB. It’s the little things. The good idea fairy comes along, and they just have to make arbitrary rules out of somewhere or out of thin air. It doesn’t do anything to affect the game. It only makes it harder.”