ATLANTA (AP) — Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell didn’t see a shiny substance on reliever Will Smith’s right arm until it was too late.
Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had already emerged from the dugout to ask umpires to check to see if Smith was cheating.
“Fredi did what he had to do, I understand,” Counsell said. “He’s competing, he’s trying to win a game. That’s what he thought he had to do.”
Smith was suspended for eight games by Major League Baseball on Friday for having a foreign substance on his arm in Thursday’s 10-1 loss to the Braves.
Because Smith plans to appeal, the penalty is on hold. Smith will be available for Friday night’s game.
“He wants to question the severity of it,” Counsell said. “For a reliever, eight games is pretty significant. His contention is with the length of the suspension.”
Smith, a left-hander, was ejected for having rosin and sunscreen on his right forearm in the seventh inning. He hit the first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Pedro Ciriaco, when his pitch bounced in front of the plate and glanced off Ciriaco’s leg.
Before Smith made his only pitch to the next batter, Jace Peterson, Gonzalez saw him rub his left fingers on his right arm. That’s when the Atlanta manager asked for a timeout.
“The biggest thing there was that it was so blatant,” Gonzalez said. “If he had gone the whole inning and never went to it, I would’ve never said a word.”
Smith said he put the substance on his forearm before warming up in the bullpen on a brisk night. He expressed regret for not wiping it off before entering the game, adding that he uses the rosin and sunscreen mix to help him feel the ball better.
“That’s it. It’s the grip,” Smith said. “It’s not going to spin more. You’re not going to throw harder. You’ve got what you got.”
It’s widely acknowledged pitchers use similar practices to grip the ball better even though it’s against the rules. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman believes most batters prefer that pitchers use a substance because it decreases odds of getting hit.
“Every pitcher does it,” Freeman said after Thursday night’s game. “As a hitter, you want them to do it so they’ll have a better grip so we won’t get hit in the head.”
Gonzalez said Smith should’ve been more careful.
“I’m sure everybody has a little something — which I’m OK with that, too — but come on,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t pull a file out of your back pocket and rough one up and do whatever you want to do. I feel like it’s my job and my responsibility to my team to do that. I really don’t care what anybody else says.”
Crew chief Jim Joyce tossed Smith from the game after touching the substance. Television cameras showed a close-up of the substance shining on his arm.
Smith yelled at Gonzalez in the Braves’ dugout as he walked off the field.
Gonzalez was adamant Friday that he wasn’t trying to embarrass Smith, who grew up 40 miles southwest of Turner Field in Newnan, Georgia.
“It’s a shame,” Gonzalez said. “This guy’s a hometown guy?, supposed to be a great kid. And guess what? If we make a trade for him, I’d love him coming out of my bullpen. He’s got good stuff.”