MINNEAPOLIS – Tuesday afternoon an at times uncomfortable-looking Gerrit Cole was forced to address a topic he previously has given either terse answers to, or none at all.
The topic? The increasing use by pitchers across the sport of sticky substances to dramatically influence the movement, and effectiveness, of their pitches.
It has become generally accepted in the game that the use, which is considered widespread, is among the biggest contributors to the overall drop in most offensive numbers in baseball.
And Cole, who has been dragged into this before – in 2018 when his star really started to shine during his time with the Astros – was again last week.
This time it was Josh Donaldson of the Twins, who mentioned Cole specifically shortly after the pitcher’s rough start June 3 against the Rays.
“Is it coincidence that Gerrit Cole’s spin rate numbers went down after four minor-leaguers got suspended for 10 games? Is that possible?” said Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP while with Toronto who presumably will be in the lineup Wednesday night when Cole starts against the Twins. “I don’t know. Maybe. At the same time, with this situation, they’ve let guys do it.”
Cole, who allowed five runs and five hits over five innings in the 9-2 loss to the Rays, said of the drop in his spin rate that day: “I attribute it to just not being as good or as sharp as I wanted to be. Simple as that.”
Regarding Donaldson’s remarks, Cole said: “I kind of thought it was a bit of low-hanging fruit, but he’s entitled to his opinion, to voice his opinion. I have other things that I need to keep my focus on. Respectfully, I can’t worry about that type of stuff, but I would say that as a member of the executive council in the union (the Major League Baseball Players’ Association), part of my job, part of my role here, is to facilitate communication about really all things involving the game, and I’m open to doing that.”
But Cole, who brings a 6-3 record with a 2.26 ERA into Wednesday night’s start, didn’t exactly clear his name, either.
Asked specifically if he’s ever used Spider Tack, one of the substances being used more and more regularly, Cole didn’t answer for several seconds.
“I don’t quite know how to answer that, to be honest,” Cole said. “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. I think there are some things that are certainly out of bounds in that regard, and I’ve stood pretty firm in terms of that, in terms of the communication between our peers and whatnot.”
Cole was referenced in 2018 by frenemy Trevor Bauer, a former teammate of his at UCLA, in a tweet questioning the increased spin rates experienced at the time by a handful of Astros pitchers.
“I’m not thrilled about it,” Cole said of having those kinds of aspersions cast on him. “But as far as that, I just kind of have to leave it where it is.”
Pitchers forever have been using generally accepted substances like sunscreen and pine tar to get a better grip on baseballs, a practice mostly accepted, especially by hitters, who want pitchers to have a solid grip on 100-mph pitches.
But in recent years, as strikeout numbers have risen meteorically and run production started plummeting, MLB, never in a hurry on these things, has taken notice. Various reports last week said the league planned to begin having umpires stringently enforcing what is in the rulebook regarding foreign substances on the ball – which is basically none at all.
“This is important to a lot of people that love the game, including the players in this room, including fans, including teams,” Cole said. “And 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.”