Pineda ejected for pine tar on neck

ByWallace Matthews ESPN logo
Thursday, April 24, 2014

BOSTON -- New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda admitted to using pine tar on the baseball during the second inning of Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park, but said he did it not to cheat, rather to ensure he did not hit anyone with an errant pitch.

"It was a really cold night, and in the first inning I [couldn't] feel the ball," Pineda said. "I don't want to like, hit anybody, so I decided to use it."

Pineda was ejected by plate umpire and crew chief Gerry Davis after Red Sox manager John Farrell came out to complain about the shiny blotch on the right side of Pineda's neck, which was clearly visible to television cameras broadcasting the game.

"I fully respect that on a cold night you're trying to get a grip, but when it's that obvious something has got to be said," Farrell said.

"I think we're all embarrassed," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "We as a group are embarrassed that this has taken place. I think Michael is embarrassed. It's just obviously a bad situation, and it clearly forced the opponents' hand to do something that I'm sure they didn't want to do but they had no choice but to do. Obviously we'll deal with the ramifications of that now."

Using a foreign substance on the baseball is a violation of Major League Baseball rule 8.02. According to an MLB spokesman, there is no mandatory suspension for the infraction at the major league level -- minor league baseball imposes an automatic 10-day suspension -- but both Cashman and manager Joe Girardi said they expected Pineda would be suspended.

"He's a young kid," Girardi said of Pineda, 25. "I don't think he's trying to do anything to cheat, I think he's trying to just go out there and compete. He used bad judgment tonight. He'll admit to that."

But it was unclear who, if anyone, on the Yankees side helped Pineda apply the pine tar, or if in fact anyone in their dugout was even aware that he was using it before Farrell went out to protest with Grady Sizemore at bat in the second inning.

"I did it by myself," Pineda said. "Nobody helped me with it."

Girardi said he never saw the pine tar on Pineda's neck, and Cashman said he was informed of it by telephone from people he did not identify who had seen it on TV.

"Hey, I don't know what's going on, but something looks suspicious," Cashman said he was told by the caller. He left his seat in the stands at Fenway and tried to get down to the Yankees' clubhouse.

"By the time I made it down from the stands, it was too late," he said.

Cashman seemed angered by the failure of anyone on the Yankees side to have spotted the pine tar on Pineda before it was spotted by the Red Sox, especially in light of allegations that Pineda had pine tar smeared on the palm of his pitching hand the last time he faced the Red Sox, on April 10 at Yankee Stadium.

"We certainly are responsible, and there's certainly failure on our part as an organization as a whole that he took the field in the second inning with that on his neck," Cashman said. "He's responsible for his actions, but we failed as an organization for somehow him being in that position. I don't know how, none of us know right now, we're scratching our head right now, how that took place."

That night, Farrell did not lodge a complaint and umpires did not punish Pineda, and in fact, several Red Sox shrugged off the incident as common practice by major league pitchers in order to improve their grip on the baseball.

But Wednesday night's transgression was apparently so blatant that it left Farrell with no other choice.

"Listen, I would want our manager to do what John Farrell did," Cashman said. "Obviously this is a terrible situation that we all witnessed and we're all a part of and we all have ownership to because there was clearly a failure and a breakdown that he wound up walking out of that dugout with something like that. It's just not a good situation."

After the last incident, former Yankees manager Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice-president of baseball operations, met with Cashman to discuss the issue. Cashman has refused to comment on the nature of the discussion but said that the message had been passed on to Pineda.

"There have been enough conversations," Cashman said. "And obviously there will be more now, and there have already been more now, even in-game when he was ejected from the game. I think after the last go-around with the same team, clearly there were a lot of conversations about this. There are no secrets there."

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild confirmed that he, too, had spoken with Pineda, but raised the possibility that the pitcher, whose English is less than perfect, might not have fully understood the ramifications of being caught using pine tar on the ball.

"It's one of those things where I'm not sure he understood what the penalties were, even though I had told him what could happen," Rothschild said. "I think in his mind, he needed to grip the baseball. When it's cold out, and windy, those balls are like cue balls, and it makes it really tough. Look, he's not doing anything to try to change things and get a hitter out -- scuffing the ball, using Vaseline or anything like that. It was strictly what he said, and that's trying to get a better grip on the baseball."

Pineda, who appeared near tears in the Yankees' clubhouse, said he had apologized to his teammates after the game, in which Girardi had to use four relief pitchers.

"I know I made a mistake today, and I feel so sad," Pineda said. "I learn from this mistake. It won't happen again."

The strong possibility that Pineda will be suspended puts the already-pitching-depleted Yankees in a further bind. This week, they lost starter Ivan Nova to a torn elbow ligament that is likely to require Tommy John surgery. They have had to insert Vidal Nuno into the rotation in his place. The loss of Pineda, even for a start or two, would force Girardi to find another starting pitcher on short notice.

"I'm not going to get mad at him," Girardi said. "The kid's doing the best he can, he's trying to compete. He feels bad, he feels like he let his teammates down. But as I said to Michael, 'Hey, this is a little bump, we'll get through this, we'll find a way to get through this and you'll be back pitching before you know it.'"

Related Video