Get a grip: No consensus on pitchers' tactics
Buchholz at center of discussion about what hurlers do to gain edge
It started when Blue Jays broadcasters Dirk Hayhurst and Jack Morris suggested that Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz was doctoring the baseballs he used while throwing seven shutout innings against Toronto on May 1 at Rogers Centre.
It continued with a column on Yahoo! Sports this week that the foreign substance Buchholz was using is spray-on BullFrog sunscreen, combined with powder from the rosin bag. The story suggested that 90 percent of Major League pitchers do the same to get a better grip on the ball.
Coincidentally, Buchholz will make his next start Saturday against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. It's likely that he'll be under extra scrutiny because of the allegations made in the wake of his torrid (6-0, 1.60 ERA) start.
The pitcher and Red Sox manager John Farrell have both denied the accusations. But here's the kicker: While this may be a big deal to the fans and media, a random sampling of opinion across Major League Baseball was generally met with a shrug.
"I don't mind if it's just something that helps them get a grip and get the ball over. Everybody does it. We don't care. We know it's for grip. Coming up through the Minor Leagues, we know that everybody is doing it. All the pitchers do it just for grip," said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Added Atlanta catcher Gerald Laird: "I don't have a problem with the guys using it. I want guys to have a good grip on the ball so that they know where the ball is going. If it's just something to get tackiness and get a feel for the ball, I'm fine with it. I don't want a guy out there feeling like the ball is slick. I want the guy to have a good feel for it."
One manager first said he didn't know anything about it, but offered to look a little deeper.
"Asking around, it seems like a lot of guys do it for grip. Not to make the ball do stuff," he said.
Despite that general acceptance of the practice, pitchers tended to take the see-no-evil approach. Veteran Royals left-hander Bruce Chen said that he's heard stories of pitchers loading up the ball but insisted he doesn't know anything about BullFrog.
"If I feel the ball is too sticky, I don't want it. I've never heard anything about sunscreen on anything. The guy's throwing well, so they're just trying to fish for something," Chen said. "But I've heard stories of people putting Vaseline in between their teeth and under their lips and under their tongue, and that's how they make the ball [do something]. Like, dude, you gonna put Vaseline in there and swallow it?"
Teammate James Shields also scoffed.
"I've never used sunscreen or any of that matter in my career. But I really don't know anything about that, to be honest with you. I am not aware of it at all," the right-hander said.
In his last start, the first after the comments by Hayhurst and Morris, Buchholz gave up four runs in six innings, his worst outing of the year. That, of course, doesn't prove anything.
"It's getting old and I'm not going to talk about it anymore," Buchholz said. "I'm sick of talking about it. I haven't done anything wrong. I'm doing things within the rules of the game. ... I haven't used that [sunscreen] all year. I've used it in the past when I need to use sunscreen on a sunny day on the mound. Is there anything wrong with that? Isn't that when you're supposed to use it?"
Buchholz has not been accused by Major League Baseball, an opposing team or an umpire.
"That's all that matters. It means I'm doing things the right way. I'm not breaking any rules," he said.
Farrell struck a similar note.
"I don't know of our pitchers using sunscreen. You know, seemingly, the comments that came out of our series up in Toronto suggested some form of cheating, and yet Clay uses rosin, which I think every pitcher that walks through a mound, and certainly on a Major League mound, would use. But the fact is Clay hasn't used any foreign substance," he said.
"We'll take those accusations as a compliment to a guy that's really pitched well."
And, for what it's worth, the forecast calls for a chance of rain in Boston this afternoon.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. Reporters Mark Bowman, Ian Browne and Dick Kaegel contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.