Tigers' AJ Hinch envisions potential risks as MLB crackdown on sticky baseballs looms

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

You thought the Casey Mize glove controversy in Kansas City last week was kooky (it was), wait until Monday when major-league umpires start searching pitchers’ hands, forearms, gloves and caps for foreign substances.

“Everyone is on board with wanting an even playing field,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Sunday before the series finale in Anaheim. “But nobody has a clue on how it’s going to go.”

Tigers manager AJ Hinch, left, is seeking an even playing field, but is concerned about the enforcement of baseball's crackdown on sticky substances on baseballs.

Teams were warned a week ago that the league’s crackdown on sticky substances on the baseball would start in earnest Monday. Umpires will inspect starting pitchers at least twice a game, relievers at the end of their first inning or when they get removed from the game, and closers when they come into the game.

Any player in possession of, or has applied sticky substances will be ejected immediately and subjected to a suspension.

“There is still a lot of curiosity on how this is all going to get rolled out,” Hinch said. “There’s been dialogue across the league since the memo went out.”

There are worrisome gray areas and potential unintended consequences, which is why Hinch came out of the dugout Saturday night while Joe Jimenez was warming up to have a conversation with umpire James Hoye.

“The process of what’s to be expected of pitchers and relief pitchers is pretty well defined,” Hinch said. “The interpretation of what is sticky and what is not sticky, and where rosin can and can’t go — I don’t think anybody knows.

“It’s going to have to be trial and error and the problem is, with error comes accusations of cheating. So we’re all trying to find clarification on exactly what the process is going to be like.”

Hinch gave a hypothetical. In the heat of an inning, he takes a reliever out of the game. The reliever, already fired up from the outing and being removed, is stopped and inspected by the umpire before he even gets to the dugout. That might not sit well.

“There are a lot of risks that come with the process,” Hinch said. “We just have to make sure the process is articulated to the players and well-defined and ultimately given a chance to succeed. But it could be a rocky start.”

Here’s another hypothetical. It’s a hot, muggy day. The pitcher already has sweat through one jersey and is working on a second. Rosin is the only way to keep his hand somewhat dry. So he picks the rosin bag up with his right hand, dabs it on his forearm and wrist to stop the sweat from dripping, then he pinches the bill of his cap with his thumb and forefinger, like you see pitchers do all the time.

Is that rosin-stained hat going to be viewed as a violation? Apparently, it is.

“There is a misunderstanding of whether he can apply the rosin to one arm or both,” Hinch said. “He sweats on both sides of his body. I really don’t understand where you can or can’t apply it. Then, once he goes to his hat and his hat becomes discolored — which is going to happen one hundred out of one hundred times — he’s expected to have a new hat for the next inning.”

That seems excessive, since presumably the pitcher already was inspected for other non-rosin substances beforehand. And ultimately pretty expensive.

“Little nuances like that, which have nothing to do with competitive advantage or cheating, but just process,” Hinch said. “You could have a starting pitcher go through six hats in six innings. That seems to be a little bit of a stretch.

“We’re all kind of panicking, not because we’re against the outlawing anything sticky, but we’re unsure of what the operation is going to be like when we get to Monday.”

Fortunately for the Tigers, they are off on Monday, so they will get an observation day. The Braves-Mets doubleheader opener, the first game on the schedule Monday, will be the first test ground for the process.

“We’ll all be watching because I don’t think any of us have a clue as to how it’s going to go,” Hinch said.

Glove-gate settled

Alas, Mize wore a lighter-colored glove Sunday. Major League Baseball deemed the charcoal gray glove that he wore for 20 starts in the big leagues — before umpire John Tumpane made him switch in Kansas City last week — in violation of league rules.

“The rule in the books says no gray gloves,” Hinch said. “That means any shade of gray apparently because Casey’s is as dark a gray as you can get. Some people would call it off-black, but off-black looks gray. One umpire in Kansas City deemed it to be gray.”

Hinch asked the umpire crew in Anaheim to review Mize’s glove and they approved it. The league, however, intervened and disallowed the glove.

“The crew here came over and looked at it,” Hinch said. “Their interpretation was that it was fine. The league came down and said no.”

No more Buffalo

The Wilson Ramos era in Detroit lasted 35 games.

The veteran catcher signed for $2 million this offseason cleared waivers after the Tigers designated him for assignment last week. On Sunday, the club requested unconditional release waivers, making Ramos a free agent.

Ramos, nicknamed the Buffalo, started strong with six home runs in April, but ended up hitting just .200 before going on the injured with a lumbar strain.

With rookies Jake Rogers and Eric Haase taking charge of the catcher position, and with veterans Grayson Greiner and Dustin Garneau at Triple-A Toledo, Ramos became expendable.

Around the horn

Center fielder Derek Hill began his rehab assignment at low-A Lakeland on Saturday, going 1 for 5 as the designated hitter.

“Offense isn’t a problem, and he’s throwing out to a certain distance,” Hinch said. “We have to get him stretched out to where he can make any throw without a pinch or pain. We think that will happen mid-week.”

Eventually, Hill, who is out with a shoulder sprain, will transition his rehab assignment to Triple-A Toledo.


Twitter: @cmccosky