Manfred: Max Scherzer Incident During Nationals vs. Phillies 'Less Than Ideal'

Jenna CiccotelliAnalyst IIIJune 23, 2021

Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer reacts as he talks with umpires during a foreign substances check in the middle of the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is considering Max Scherzer's outburst an outlier.

Two days after the league began enforcing rules to prevent pitchers' use of sticky substances—and one day after the Washington Nationals starter became visibly upset after he was checked three times during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies—Manfred told The Athletic's Brittany Ghiroli that the first few days "have gone very well." 

"I understand the incident in Philadelphia was less than ideal, but that was one incident," Manfred said. "And we expect that we will continue, as the vast majority of cases so far, without that kind of incident."

Manfred called for the enforcement of rules to check pitchers for substances in order "to level the playing field" after spending months collecting data amid a season that has seen a record number of strikeouts, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). 

Scherzer was agitated after Phillies manager Joe Girardi requested a third check on him despite inspection after the first and third innings. According to Bradford Doolittle of ESPN, pitchers should expect to be checked twice per game.  

Manfred continued to say that he is pleased with the update to play so far: 

"We've had no ejections [for foreign substances], players in general have been extremely cooperative, the inspections have taken place quickly and between innings. Frankly, the data suggests that we are making progress with respect to the issues [in spin rate] that caused us to undertake the effort in the first place.

In his postgame press conference, Scherzer—a three-time Cy Young Award winner—said he was "just trying to get a grip of the ball" when a 95 mph fastball nearly hit Alec Bohm in the head before striking him out. Before both the errant pitch and the one that sent him back to the dugout, Scherzer took off his hat and touched his hair, which prompted Girardi to inquire. 

"I've seen Max a long time, since 2010," Girardi said postgame. "Obviously, he's going to be a Hall of Famer. I've never seen him wipe his head like he was doing tonight, ever. It was suspicious for me. He did it four or five times. It was suspicious. I didn't mean to offend anyone. I just got to do what's right for my club."

The Nationals ended up winning 3-2 as Scherzer earned his 181st career victory, bringing him to 6-4 on the season with a 2.19 ERA. 

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said there should be a penalty for Girardi, claiming that a manager's inquiry "throws you off." He suggested that a check should be lumped together with a challenged play, per Doolittle. 

Scherzer acknowledged there was an issue with players doctoring balls, but he is hopeful there will be a different way to check for illegal substances in the near future. 

"Hopefully, the players across the league understand that what we're doing right now, this is not the answer," Scherzer said. "I understand that there's a problem with Spider Tack and we've got to get that out of the game. But I also think there's a way to handle this that's a better way."