Amid a Major League Baseball crackdown on pitcher-friendly foreign substances, New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole struggled to give an answer when asked Tuesday whether he has ever used a particular sticky paste called Spider Tack while on the mound.
"I don't [long pause] ... I don't know ... I don't quite know how to answer that, to be honest," Cole said during his videoconference with reporters before the Yankees began a three-game series at Minnesota.
He then paused again before continuing, "There are customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players, from the last generation of players to this generation of players, and I think there are some things that are certainly out of bounds in that regard.
"This is important to a lot of people who love the game, including the players in this room, including fans, including teams, so if MLB wants to legislate some more stuff, that's a conversation that we can have. Because ultimately we should all be pulling in the same direction on this."
ESPN's Buster Olney reported over the weekend that under a plan being swiftly advanced by the league, all MLB pitchers will be checked repeatedly and randomly by umpires for foreign substances, with every starting pitcher likely to be checked at least two times per start. With officials cognizant of having equipment checks slow a sport in which the pace of play is already thought to be too deliberate, pitchers might be checked as they walk off the field at the conclusion of an outing. One management source estimated that there will be eight to 10 random foreign-substance checks per game.
As part of wide-ranging comments last week about the presence of pitcher-friendly sticky stuff, Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson casually wondered aloud whether Cole -- whose pitches in his last start weren't rotating as much -- was suddenly trying to hide usage of grip aids -- typically a mix of rosin and sunscreen -- to avoid being caught amid MLB's crackdown.
Sidestepping the accusation on Tuesday, Cole said his spin rate dropoff was due to mechanical flaws.
"I attribute it to just not being as good or as sharp as I wanted to be. It's as simple as that," Cole said.
According to MLB Statcast data on the website Baseball Savant, Cole had a decrease of 125 rotations per minute on his four-seam fastball last week when he allowed five runs in five innings in a loss to Tampa Bay. Cole, not quite halfway into the second season of a $324 million, nine-year contract, is third in MLB with 104 strikeouts. The three-time All-Star has a 2.26 ERA over 75 2/3 innings and 12 starts this season.
"I'm just not quite bringing out my best delivery. Of course it's something that we monitor. Of course there are other variables that we monitor as well when we're evaluating our performance from every game. You try to take as much information as you can as a player, and certainly that's one of them," Cole said. "We're trying to get better this week and put in the work, and I'll be as prepared as I possibly can for my next start."
Cole is next scheduled to pitch Wednesday against Donaldson and the Twins.
Four minor league pitchers have been suspended this season by Major League Baseball after being caught using banned foreign substances to doctor baseballs, evidence of a stronger crackdown in the game's feeder system than in the big leagues during this historically dominant stretch of pitching. The use of homebrewed sticky substances is suspected to have spiked in recent seasons as grip aid to increase the spin rates on fastballs and make those pitches harder to hit.
Donaldson suggested the timing of the news of the minor league suspensions was related to the changes in Cole's spin rate. Cole called the criticism "undesirable" but declined to respond specifically to the allegation.
"I understand this topic is important to everybody that cares about the game. In regards to Josh, I kind of felt like it was a bit of a low-hanging fruit, but he's entitled to his opinion and to voice his opinion, so I just have other things that I need to keep my focus on," Cole said.
Donaldson said Friday that the sticky substance situation is going to be "the next steroids of baseball ordeal" for its performance-enhancing effect on the game.
"Hitters have never really cared about sunscreen, rosin and pine tar. We haven't cared about that because it's not a performance enhancement. What these guys are doing now are performance-enhancing, to where it is an actual super glue-type of ordeal, to where it's not about command anymore," Donaldson said. "Now, it's about who's throwing the nastiest pitches, the more unhittable pitches."
Said Yankees manager Aaron Boone: "In the end, all that anyone really wants -- pitchers, position players, managers -- is the best possible product and the most level of playing field that we can create."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.