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John Farrell: MLB needs 'approved substance' to help pitchers grip ball

MINNEAPOLIS -- It seems long ago when then-Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester was caught in the middle of a public hoopla over the Zapruder-like still frames showing a green substance on his glove during Game 1 of the 2013 World Series.

About 19 months later, Red Sox manager John Farrell said he’d like to see rule changes made to accommodate what many already feel is an "unwritten rule."

The actual, written, rule got Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Will Smith suspended Friday for eight games after he was caught with a foreign substance on his arm in a Thursday night game against the Atlanta Braves.

“It’s one of those unwritten rules where you kind of feel like it’s in the game,” Farrell said two hours before the opening pitch in Monday’s Memorial Day matchup between the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins.

“I would like to see an approved substance pitchers can use," Farrell added. "I think anytime a game loses players for eight to 10 games, I think it makes us as an industry look within. If pitchers are putting themselves at risk and if the belief is a widespread number of pitchers are doing it, why wouldn’t we look to improve the game?"

Smith’s penalty is on hold as he awaits an appeal, but his remarks after the Brewers reliever was called out for having a mixture of rosin and sunscreen on his arm seem to reflect the common opinion held among ball clubs.

Smith claimed he forgot to remove the substance before the game, but defended the practice by saying it’s about a better grip, not necessarily throwing more effective pitches. Farrell echoed that Monday, adding that a hitter would prefer to have a pitcher in control so he won’t have to watch for a wild pitch.

“They’re looking for some tackiness, added grip,” Farrell said. “I think if you ask a hitter, they’re not going to say a substance makes a ball do different things. It’s not like scuffing it. As long as it’s a tacky substance, not Vaseline.”

Lester wasn’t the only instance to bring this close to home for Boston, as Clay Buchholz was put on notice before a start against the Twins exactly two years ago this month. Reports surfaced about umpires keeping a close eye on Buchholz after an opposing team’s broadcasters accused him of doctoring the ball.

Asked why Smith, who had the substances blatantly applied on his arm, would be so obvious about it in Milwaukee, Farrell offered that maybe pitchers have become loose with hiding it.

“Maybe there’s the thought that they would never get checked,” Farrell said. “We’ve obviously checked a guy in the past where it was obvious he was using a substance, I guess it comes down to being discreet.”