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Cubs pitchers navigating new reality after MLB’s foreign-substance mandate

According to MLB’s new guidelines, the penalty for foreign substances being found on a player will be a 10-game suspension. 

The Cubs’ Zach Davies gets a mound visit from pitching coach Tommy Hottovy earlier this season.
The Cubs’ Zach Davies gets a mound visit from pitching coach Tommy Hottovy earlier this season.
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

After weeks of hearing about “sticky stuff” around the game, pitchers are finding themselves in their own sticky situations after Major League Baseball announced the banning and strict enforcement of foreign substances.

In a memo sent by MLB on Tuesday, the league announced a ban on tacky substances, including popular products like Spider Tack and Pelican Grip. The mixture of sunscreen and rosin, which has been used in the game for decades, also was included on the list of banned substances.

Cubs pitchers had a meeting before Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Mets to discuss how to navigate the new rules, which will be enforced starting Monday.

“I think we were all kind of anticipating and understanding that something was going to come out,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “We’re just waiting for it to become official and then talk through what we need to do moving forward.”

The league’s crackdown on foreign substances comes amid seemingly nightly evidence of pitchers using different substances on balls to increase grip, spin rate or RPM.

According to the memo, the penalty for a foreign substance found on a player will result in a 10-game suspension.

There have been clear frustrations from players, coaches and managers over the last several weeks as the conversation around foreign substances began to grow.

“Going into this year, it would have been nice to have a clear-cut path for a lot of guys,” Cubs starter Zach Davies said. “But now, you’re having to U-turn in the middle of the season and try and figure things out. That’s frustrating. It’s annoying to have to talk about when it all could have been settled in spring training and guys aren’t worrying about trying to win ball games.

“You have to answer more questions now that don’t really pertain to you, just because you’re part of the game. Over the last few years, we could have talked about baseballs changing every year, but that’s not really brought up.”

Davies’ point about baseballs changing has been on the radar of coaches and pitchers, who describe balls’ inconsistencies — not only from ballpark to ballpark but also within a start — varying from the seams to the slick and chalky surface, leading to a much greater emphasis on grip.

In a season that has seen hit batters skyrocket, that trend might continue as pitchers try to navigate slick baseballs without anything to help grip.

“I would say that we have to put an emphasis on making sure that the baseball is uniform,” manager David Ross said.

“Everywhere you go, you definitely hear pitchers talking about when [they] go on the road at this place, the balls are a little more chalky than in that place — whether that has to do with climate or humidity, lack of humidity or how somebody rubs them — there’s so many variables in that, and I think we just have to get back to finding some form with that.”

While there has been chagrin regarding the league’s decision to suddenly ban certain substances, many agree something needs to be done about the abuse of sticky substances to gain an advantage.

“I don’t know if there’s another way to do it, though,” Hottovy said. “You almost have to hit the reset button and then kind of figure out from there what you want to do as a league. I think the minute you start giving exceptions to one thing, you’re going to have people kind of complain about other things.

“I think that’s the way you have to handle it, and then we as an industry have to adjust, and I think if that causes guys to have to back off their stuff to throw strikes, that’s pitching. That’s part of the game. Will it affect people? Absolutely. But again, I think to control the broader scheme, I think you have to start with a clean slate.”