Michael Pine(tar)da

April 24, 2014 | Andrew Bronstein

On Wednesday night, Michael Pineda was ejected in the second inning from his start against the Red Sox for having a banned substance (which he later admitted was pine tar) on his neck. It isn’t that rare that pitchers use foreign substances to doctor the ball. Doing this allows pitchers to get a better grip on the baseball and assists their breaking balls to break more. What is rare is that a pitcher gets caught with it twice in 13 days.

Let’s not forget that on April 10th, he was caught with a strange brown substance on his pitching hand. In that game, many cameras caught this substance on Pineda’s hand early in the game; however it was gone by the fifth inning. By that time, Pineda had not allowed any runs and in fact finished his performance allowing only four hits and two walks while striking out seven. The Yankees would win the game 4-1.

After the game, when questioned about the substance, Pineda told reporters that it was just dirt that had mixed with his sweat on his hand.

Fast forward to last night’s game when Pineda gave up two runs on four hits in the first inning. In the second inning, he walked back to the mound and got two quick outs. He was one strike away from a three up three down inning when Red Sox manager John Farrell noticed a familiar substance on Pineda’s neck from the dugout – a substance that was not present in the first. He alerted the home plate umpire Gerry Davis, and the umpires went out to examine Pineda. After swabbing Pineda’s neck with his finger, Davis examined the substance and instantly ejected the Yankees’ starter.

This time after the game, Pineda was much more remorseful and honest. He admitted that it was pine tar. He complained that he couldn’t get a grip on the ball because of the cold weather, and that is why he used the banned substance. He knows that he faces a possible suspension from Major League Baseball. That suspension would most likely be ten games, which sounds like a lot but due to the fact that he is a starting pitcher, it is really just two starts. However, because of the previous incident less than two weeks before, I don’t expect Commissioner Selig to go lightly on him.

There are a couple of things that should be brought to attention here. First of all, Pineda has got to have some giant cojones to try to pull this on the same team twice in a 13 day span. I can’t tell if this is stupidity or bravery on his part, but to try the same thing that you were caught doing yet got away with takes guts. It’s almost as if a superstar player (say for example a MVP left fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers) gets accused of using banned substances and gets off on a technicality, and then goes back to still using those banned substances. Do these athletes really not think they are going to get caught? It is almost as if they have an air of invincibility to them. Even when caught, they don’t think they will be punished. Luckily, justice eventually prevails and players are punished for their cheating and stupidity. We will see what happens next time Pineda takes the mound. He has said he won’t use pine tar any more, even in cold weather, but forgive me if I don’t completely trust him.

The second point is that if you are going to do this against a team, Pineda picked the right team to take advantage of. Not that I condone cheating in any way, but (whether he realized it or not) Pineda has forced the Red Sox to look like hypocrites in their bringing his use of pine tar to focus. Some have speculated that this is the reason they did not complain to Major League Baseball about the April 10th incident. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz even said that it wasn’t “a big deal”. Could this perhaps be due to the fact that Red Sox pitchers have been caught trying to doctor the baseball to aid their own pitching performances? It was about this time last year that Clay Buchholz was accused of using a substance (guessed to be Crisco) to help him gain an edge. Even last year in the World Series, someone in the St. Louis Cardinals organization accused Jon Lester of hiding a substance in his glove that he used in a similar fashion. Could this be why the Red Sox were not as adamant about Pineda in the first game in question, and seemed to be laid back in last night’s game?

Finally, I want to analyze Pineda’s explanation. He obviously knows what he did was wrong and is clearly remorseful (though I don’t know how remorseful he would be if he didn’t get caught). But he mentioned that he did it because it was cold and he couldn’t get a grip. He said he couldn’t “feel” the ball. I am assuming he actually could feel the ball (it may have been cold, but it wasn’t that cold) and this is just a word he had trouble translating from his native Spanish. Pineda is from the Dominican Republic, so he probably isn’t used to pitching in cold weather. However he spent 2011 with Seattle before getting traded for Jesus Montero and then missing all of 2012 and 2013 due to injury. In 2011, he pitched in a couple of cold weather games – in Seattle April 12, April 22, at Detroit April 28 and at Minnesota September 21. In those games, he allowed 1, 0, 2 and 2 earned runs respectively. So either the cold didn’t bother him before, or this has been going on longer than we thought. When the Yankees acquired him, they expected him to be prepared to pitch in the cold, since New York doesn’t have the warmest climate (the same could be said for 4 of the 5 AL East teams), and they build their team with intentions of playing in October.

Whatever is going on here, Michael Pineda, you can bet that everyone will be watching you. You can’t get away with anything else.

(Photo courtesy of AP/Kathy Willens)