Orioles pitchers Mike Wright, in his second big league game, and Oliver Drake, in his major league debut, were outstanding Saturday night in a 13-inning, 1-0 loss to the Miami Marlins. Wright pitched seven scoreless innings, giving him 14 1/3 to start his big league career, and Drake went three.
But Saturday’s loss will be remembered for left-hander Brian Matusz’s ejection in the bottom of the 12th for having a foreign substance on his right forearm.
The Orioles wouldn’t comment publicly on what, exactly, the sticky substance was. Orioles manager Buck Showalter and Matusz danced around the subject.
But privately, the sense is that Matusz had a combination of rosin and something else — maybe sunscreen, maybe just sweat — that would have helped his grip on the baseball. It’s something a lot of pitchers do, but after the Milwaukee Brewers' Will Smith was ejected Thursday and suspended eight games Friday for having a sunscreen-rosin combination on his nonthrowing arm, it’s obvious this is something that's becoming an issue for Major League Baseball. And pitchers are going to have to adjust.
Frankly, this has been a concern of Showalter's for years — but he has an interesting take. He is a proponent of pitchers' using tacky substances to improve grip. He thinks it will improve player safety in the batter’s box. He has gone so far as ordering Japanese baseballs, which have a tacky covering, to prove his point.
He wasn’t talking about that Saturday night, though.
“Obviously, we've got some personal feelings about all of it. You all know how I feel about the root of the problem,” Showalter said. “But we'll see. A rule's a rule, but at the same time, at some point, you've got to get to the crux of what's causing people to want to do that.”
Matusz did not want to discuss the matter in specifics.
“We're not going to address the issue right now,” he said. “Obviously, I have my own personal opinions about the issue, but right now, with emotions running high, we're going to let this settle and address questions at a later time.”
It was the first time Matusz had been ejected from a game at any level, he said.
The feeling within the Orioles’ clubhouse is that the incident really was a matter of gamesmanship by Marlins manager Dan Jennings, whose team was on an eight-game losing streak, including five straight since Jennings moved from general manager to field manager.
The ploy worked. Matusz had to leave abruptly, and left-hander T.J. McFarland entered. He had to warm up on the mound and picked up a strikeout to end the inning. In the 13th, he loaded the bases and gave up a game-winning single to Martin Prado.
Showalter wouldn’t blame the loss on the switch in pitchers, of course.
“Nothing tough. That was Matusz’s last hitter anyway,” Showalter said. “Had he gotten him out in that inning, he wouldn’t have pitched the next inning anyway. So we like Mac about as much as Matusz. Didn’t really affect much.”
For his part, Jennings said the Marlins saw something shiny on Matusz’s forearm, then watched the pitcher go to his arm several times before pitching.
“We saw a substance. We saw something shining on his arm. So we watched him a couple of pitches to see how many times he went to it,” Jennings said. “So I went out and I asked home umpire Jordan [Baker] to check it. Crew chief Paul Emmel asked me if I wanted to check. I said, 'Yes.' So he checked, and by their opinion, there was something there, a foreign substance, and they made their decision.”
Jennings said it wasn’t a matter of gamesmanship but of fairness.
“This was a situation that we saw. The game is tough enough to play,” he said. “We didn't want to create an unfair advantage to our hitters, so that's why I went out and asked them to check it.”
Said Emmel, the crew chief: "The protocol is that the manager has to come out and make us aware of something like that and ask us if we want to go check the opposing pitcher, and he did. And so I went out there and told the pitcher I was going to touch his right forearm, because that's where he was touching before he went to the ball. And, yes, I detected a foreign substance, so the pitcher was ejected and we went from there.”
If Matusz and Showalter talk more about this in the future, they inevitably will say Matusz wasn’t using the substance as an advantage, but as a way to better grip the ball. The argument is that a rosin bag is on the back of the mound anyway.
But the rule is that you can’t have any foreign substance on your body — not pine tar, rosin or anything else. More surely will come out on this. But the bottom line is that the Orioles could lose Matusz for several games, perhaps as many as Smith’s eight. And that surely will change the bullpen’s composition.
So no one in the Orioles’ camp was saying anything derogatory Saturday night.
“I'm not sure what's going to happen from here,” Matusz said. “We'll let this play out and we'll address it then.”
Said Showalter: “You reflect on it. You’re usually emotional after a game like that. You kind of take it in, make sure you don’t say something you’ll regret. But we all have personal feelings on everything. So I’m going to make sure I get the whole story.”
One last thing on this: The Orioles were in the process of deciding whether they needed to get bullpen reinforcements for Sunday’s finale in Miami. Drake could be sent out, and another reliever could be recalled from Triple-A.