Cubs pitchers brace for sticky situation with crackdown


NEW YORK — If Major League Baseball planned to issue a league-wide memo to teams Tuesday about cracking down on pitchers using sticky stuff on the ball, why are they waiting until next week to implement it — instead of, say, Wednesday?

“That’s a great question,” Cubs manager David Ross deadpanned, with no need to elaborate.

The Cubs, of course, face the best and nastiest pitcher on the planet in Jacob deGrom Wednesday night in New York.

And whether deGrom’s ascension to yet a higher level of elite this year has anything to do with Spider Tack or any other grip- and spin-enhancing substance the league is attempting to eliminate, the great questions outnumbered the great answers as the Cubs held a pitchers meeting to discuss Tuesday’s memo.

“Just want to make sure we’re all on the same page,” said Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who was reluctant to make any predictions on how the crackdown — which goes into effect Monday — might impact his pitchers or anyone else’s.

“Everybody’s going to know right away where this is all going in the first week and a half, two weeks of this as it comes into effect,” he said. “It’s obviously going to fix a lot of the problems that have been going on, with using stuff to enhance performance.

“But there’s a fine line between doing that and controlling the game,” he added, “and also jeopardizing potential injuries, in a year where we’re already trying to control all the effort level and innings and stuff like that as well [coming off last year's 60-game season].”

Starting next week pitchers will be checked regularly for substances, with 10-game suspensions resulting from violations — and teams not allowed to replace the suspended player on the roster.

That part might benefit the Cubs, who would seem to have fewer sticky “spin-rate” guys in their rotation — where such suspensions could have the greatest impact.

Already on Tuesday, Tampa Bay Rays ace Tyler Glasnow blamed a serious elbow injury suffered in recent days on changes he made to adjust to the crackdown baseball signaled was coming for months, with information leaked earlier this month saying it was imminent.

Glasnow told reporters in Florida he recently changed his grip on his fastball and curveball after he stopped using the sunscreen-and-rosin mix that has been tolerated with a wink and a nod for decades as a means of helping command (if not avoiding hitting guys in the head).

“I truly believe, that’s why I got hurt,” Glasnow said.

But even the non-power, non-spin-rate guys seem irritated at the midstream change in June.

“Now in the middle of the season having to change things, it’s annoying to have to deal with, even on the side of the ball that doesn’t really have that effect,” Cubs starter Zach Davies said.

Cubs union representative Ian Happ said union officials, including several pitchers and former pitchers, continue to discuss the issue, but he acknowledges there might be little room to push back, considering any foreign substance on the ball beyond rosin — including the long-accepted sunscreen — is illegal.

“We just hope there will be a constant dialogue as we get through this year and into next year on how we can best serve the entire [game],” he said.

Meanwhile, will batters get hit by pitches at even higher rates than this year’s extreme rate? Will spin and velocity dip enough across the game that offensive numbers surge? Will suspensions crush some teams’ rosters? If Glasnow’s right, will more injuries occur?

What will be the effect on some of the power guys in a Cubs’ bullpen that has been exceptional this year?

And what other outcomes might we see?

“The return of the sinkerballer?” Cubs lefty reliever Andrew Chafin mused.

“I definitely think stuff like Spider Tack shouldn’t be allowed,” Chafin said. “As for the other stuff, it’s been a part of the game for a very long time, and I don’t think the game was broken at all, and I don’t think a lot of things need to be changed.”

Craig Kimbrel, the Cubs’ power-pitching closer who cleaned his hat to avoid a sticky situation with ump Joe West two weeks ago, declined again to talk about the sticky-stuff issue Tuesday, suggesting he might have some thoughts to share “maybe in a couple weeks.”

Meanwhile, what’s deGrom going to look like from the batter’s box Wednesday to a Cubs team that hasn’t seen him in two years? Especially coming off an injury scare in his last start?

Especially compared to five days later?

For now, Ross and most of his team are withholding judgment and predictions, while understanding that cracking down on the extreme sticky stuff can’t be done without cracking down on all the stuff.

“If I’m in MLB’s shoes and I have to govern this, I can’t have any gray areas, right?” Ross said. “You’ve got to go back to the start and then figure it out. I think they’re doing the right thing by going back to square one.

“Let’s see how things play out. Unintended consequences and all that — I don’t know. So I don’t want to comment on [the outcome].”

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