Major League Baseball’s crackdown on pitchers using illegal sticky substances to improve their grip on the ball goes into full effect on Monday. What that will end up looking like is a bit of a mystery to those in big-league dugouts and the stands.
One thing, however, is certain: All eyes will be on Yankees ace Gerrit Cole on Tuesday when he faces Kansas City at the Stadium.
Whether fair or not, Cole has become the face of the issue as it has ballooned in the sport. Thus everything about that night will get scrutiny: whether he is checked, how he reacts, the spin rate on his pitches and, ultimately, whether he performs well.
Pitchers found to be using illegal substances — basically anything aside from the rosin bag — face ejection and a 10-game suspension with pay. They will not be able to be replaced on the roster.
"I don’t have a lot of expectations, to be honest," Cole said in a Sunday news conference before the Yankees beat Oakland, 2-1, at the Stadium. "I'm in the same boat as everyone else, just waiting for this to play out. Certainly, we're not trying to be ejected. We know the ramifications on the roster and whatnot moving forward, so it's going to be interesting to see. We'll be prepared, obviously, to adjust here and be within the rules."
Manager Aaron Boone said, "I understand it’s because he's one of the game’s great pitchers [but] I don’t think he will be, or certainly should not be, targeted more. I'm curious to see what it all looks like as far as the policing of things and how umpires handle different situations. So I am curious and I don't expect him to be, within the context of the game, scrutinized more."
Cole's role in this situation is about more than just his spectacular pitching.
Whispers about the righthander’s use of illegal substances were heard when he developed greater spin on the ball and more dramatic movement on his pitches while he was with the Astros. They grew louder when Minnesota third baseman Josh Donaldson recently suggested the rise of the issue and a substandard Cole performance were not a coincidence. And then there was Cole refusing to give a direct answer about whether he has used the sticky substance Spider Tack.
Boone, however, thinks Cole hasn’t been treated fairly. He said, "In a lot of ways, he's become sort of the poster child and I think he is not one of the people that have gone to a place that a lot of people in our game have gone: to create an advantage. That's kind of why I feel that way.
"He's been vulnerable and answered a lot of questions about it, so he’s been one of the lead stories on it, which I sort of get. But I also feel like he's not one of the guys we're talking about necessarily."
After last Wednesday's start against Toronto in Buffalo, Cole was asked about the enforcement that’s coming and almost seemed to emotionally plead for some guidance about how the rule will be policed. A member of the MLB players' union executive committee, Cole said there has been communication since.
"There are probably going to be things that we're going to continue to need to iron out," he said. "Applying a little bit of patience is probably the right move . . . until we get really solidified in how this is going to [play] out going forward."
As for how stricter enforcement of the long-standing rule will impact the game, no one is really sure. Boone speculated that there will be a "tick up in offense." Cole didn’t necessarily believe there will be more runs scored but rather more balls in play.
"The way I would describe [it]: We're still scoring roughly the same amount of runs but the offense is different," Cole said. "It's not the same as the offense that we've [had] in the past, but the offense still produces runs. So maybe this [will be] just a different way to get outs."