After throwing a quick 1-2-3 first inning on Tuesday night, Chris Flexen was greeted by home plate umpire Mark Wegner and first base umpire Chris Guccione near the first base line as he walked back to the Mariners dugout.
It was time for Flexen to be checked for foreign substances as part of Major League Baseball’s midseason crackdown as directed by commissioner Rob Manfred. After announcing new, stricter punishments for getting caught using a foreign substance on the baseball, Manfred instructed umpires to begin doing random checks of players during games. Opposing managers can also request umpires to inspect a pitcher on suspicion of using a foreign substance.
It led to more than a few odd moments on Tuesday night, which included Max Scherzer, the Nationals ace, being checked three times in his outing, once at the request of Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who thought it was odd Scherzer kept rubbing his hands through the thin amount of hair remaining on his head. The ultra-intense Scherzer was none too pleased, reacted as expected, and began jawing with the Phillies dugout.
In Texas, A’s reliever Sergio Romo flung his hat and glove to the ground and then unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his pants and tried dropping them in front of an umpire.
There was no such histrionics or R-rated moments at T-Mobile Park over the past two days. The Mariners and Rockies kept everything PG.
After a brief conversation, Flexen removed his hat and glove and handed them to Guccione, who began inspecting them closely. Then he showed his bare arms and started to unbuckle his belt to show the inside of it while also flipping down the waist of his pants to Wegner.
“That’s something they’re going to do,” he said. “I had no issue with it. They can check whenever they need to. And it was harmless for me for my first experience. I gave them the glove, gave them my hat, they checked the belt and they were good.”
Things did get a little weird in the seventh when J.T. Chargois replaced Flexen and recorded the final out of the inning. Wegner and Guccione gave a similar inspection to Chargois as they did Flexen. But oddly Guccione raised the inside of Chargois hat to his face and smelled it for a few seconds, perhaps searching for an odor of pine tar through the sweat and hair product.
On Tuesday, the umps checked every pitcher that came into the game after they finished their inning of work. There were no complaints or hostility. Players treated it like a dental appointment or a license renewal at the DMV.
Manager Scott Servais talked to his players about their reactions to the checks. But it’s clear he thinks the whole situation is kind of misguided.
“Our players just understand it’s the adjustment they have to make,” Servais said. “It’s where the game is at. These rules are imposed by the commissioner and we’ll follow the rules. There’s a little bit of adjustment you have to make, whether it’s when you’re walking off the mound, or coming into a game. Try not to take it personal. It’s going on everywhere else around the league. Just make sure we’re doing the right thing, and we’re clean.”
Servais doesn’t think he’ll be requesting checks on opposing pitchers. Whether there is a legitimate reason or the idea of gamesmanship, he doesn’t want to go down that road.
“I think the umpires will be in control of it. They will be checking it. It’s up to each individual manager to decide how he wants to do it,” Servais said. “But I feel good about what the league’s put in play. Is it weird? Is it uncomfortable? Yes, it is weird, and it is uncomfortable. And we spend too much time talking about it instead of celebrating what’s going on in our game, and the awesome players that are out there playing every game. But the league felt that it needed to do something. This was their plan. And we’ll abide by it.”