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MLB umpires to crack down on pitchers using illegal substances on baseballs

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After repeated efforts by Major League Baseball to dissuade pitchers from using illegal substances to get a better grip on the ball and create more spin, the league is going to crack down on the practice by giving umpires more latitude.

Details on the more aggressive enforcement were still being worked out after owners were informed that the practice is prevalent around baseball, according to sources.

Besides giving umpires more latitude, the New York Post, citing sources, reported that MLB’s current thinking is to also put more responsibility with teams to apply the rules and to better enforce the rules in the minor leagues.

On May 26, St. Louis Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos was asked to change hats by umpires in a game against the Chicago White Sox after he had a substance on the cap, which was sent to the commissioner’s office. The Cardinals claimed it was just sunscreen and dirt.

MLB has been collecting evidence all season in the form of balls, equipment and clothing and isn’t satisfied players and teams are curbing the use of foreign substances on their own.

“Any chance we get to equal the playing ground is what’s necessary,” White Sox closer Liam Hendriks said in a Zoom interview with reporters on Thursday afternoon. “As long as it’s even across the field. That’s all that I ask for. … We need to make sure that we govern it.”

More spin on the ball allows it to stay on the same plane longer, giving a hitter less chance to react when it breaks. The crackdown comes amid years of rising strikeout totals around the baseball.

Pitchers contend such substances are useful for grip in order to know where the ball is going when they throw it, indicating the safety of the hitter is at stake. But the league has determined the practice is out of control, so a crackdown is coming.

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Inside Chicago Cubs rookie Patrick Wisdom’s improbable stretch of home run history

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CHICAGO — He’s the backup to the backup, but Chicago Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom sure isn’t playing like it. As the 29-year-old rookie preps for Sunday Night Baseball — against the team that drafted him — Wisdom has already accomplished more than most.

In his first 10 starts as a Cub, Wisdom hit eight home runs, tying Aristides Aquino for the most by any player in his first 10 games with a team since 1900.

He has lit the league — and opposing pitchers — on fire.

“The guy has seven pumps already and he hasn’t been here that long,” teammate Ian Happ said before Wisdom hit home run No. 8. “Some of us are looking at the board thinking, ‘Shoot, he’s been here for a minute — we don’t have that many.’

“If we can get it to Wisdom with guys on base, we’ll be all right.”

Wisdom has become that valuable for a team beset with injuries, which is why the 52nd pick of the 2012 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals is getting a chance in the first place. Former Rookie of the Year runner-up Matt Duffy was manning third base while former MVP at third Kris Bryant was roaming the outfield. But then Duffy went down with a back injury, opening the door for Wisdom.

Wisdom has been asked many times over the past couple of weeks to explain his success, after years of hanging around the edges of the majors. “Playing for a long time at the Triple-A level, and getting spurts at the major league level, it’s definitely helped me ease my mind, not letting it [feel] bigger than the moment,” Wisdom said. “There’s another deck on the stadium and more cameras, but it’s the same game.”

Wisdom’s journey began with the Cardinals, but after just 50 at-bats in 2018, they gave up on him. He hit .260 with four home runs, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the organization.

“From the Cardinals’ perspective, it was the classic running out of time to provide that opportunity,” Cardinals president John Mozeliak told ESPN on Friday. “With the way the rules are set up, you don’t control the player forever.”

So the Cardinals’ loss became the Cubs’ gain, but not before stops in Texas and Seattle, where, according to Wisdom, things didn’t work out because of “performance-based” issues. In other words, he just didn’t hit enough, at the right times, to warrant being kept around.

“Couldn’t get it going,” Wisdom said. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise.”

That’s when the Cubs came calling, three days after Wisdom was released from the Mariners in August 2019. They couldn’t promise him a major league deal, so he flew under the radar in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic allowed for that.

“He was really good at the alternate site last year,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said. “In some ways, it was under-reported how many homers he hit there. He had an incredible hot streak last summer of hitting a lot of home runs.”

But that wasn’t against the San Diego Padres or San Francisco Giants, two opponents he crushed recently. He hit .364 with a .417 on-base percentage against both teams while hitting seven of his eight home runs. It helped the Cubs to a 5-1 season series win over San Diego.

“It’s a combo of ingredients,” Wisdom said. “It’s the team. It’s the staff. It’s my maturity level. My family. I could go on and on about what’s contributed to my success.”

The Cubs get the credit for taking a flier on him, but even their part of the story isn’t without a blemish. The Cubs released him near the end of last season but brought him back in January on a minor league deal. Wisdom was close to signing overseas but gave the Cubs another chance.

“[Cubs director of pro scouting] Andrew Bassett told us, ‘If he plays in the States, it’s going to be for us,'” Wisdom’s agent, Adam Karon, said.

That was enough to keep Wisdom in a Cubs uniform, but Hoyer can’t dismiss the notion that anyone could have had him between September and January.

“Every team takes pride in signing undervalued guys like Duffy or Wisdom,” Hoyer said. “There’s good fortune with those things. You have to have some humility to realize if someone had offered them more, they would have had them.

“But we were higher on those guys than the rest of the league. Those are the decisions that are fun for us.”

Wisdom and Duffy are a big part of the 2021 narrative surrounding the Cubs. Like many teams, they’ve had an inordinate amount of injuries, but many of their backups have thrived, keeping the team at the top of the National League Central.

The Cardinals might truly come to regret losing Wisdom.

“Anytime you see a player you had high hopes for and was unable to do it for you, you wonder what went wrong with the process,” Mozeliak said. “Could we have been more patient? Could we have given him more tries? To truly answer those types of questions, you have to give it time.”

Wisdom’s success has been in the small-sample-size category. But it came when the Cubs needed it most, as stars such as Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo also missed time because of injuries. He was a lifesaver.

“He’s been carrying us,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He’s been the real offensive force for us right now. Every time he gets in the box, he does something to help the team. He has real power.”

Pitcher Kyle Hendricks added: “He is so hot right now. What a huge lift. Every time he goes out there. It’s amazing to watch. We’re just enjoying it right now.”

So is Wisdom, who has become popular with media and fans alike. But interviews and attention aren’t likely to keep him from his job, as he asked reporters to wait before Friday’s game so he could take ground balls. The grind has been real for Wisdom and he’s not about to let the dream end.

“It’s been truly special,” he said.

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Los Angeles Dodgers’ Max Muncy heads to injured list with right oblique strain

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LOS ANGELES — First baseman Max Muncy is going on the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ injured list with a right oblique muscle strain.

The Dodgers recalled outfielder Luke Raley on Saturday night to take the roster spot of Muncy, who left Friday’s game in the second inning with the defending World Series champions’ latest significant injury woe.

Muncy hit his 14th homer of the season in the first inning of the series opener against the Texas Rangers but was replaced by Albert Pujols shortly afterward.

Muncy is batting .264 with 33 RBIs in 60 games this season for Los Angeles. Before his oblique injury, he had been struggling with an injured right ankle since getting hurt June 4 in Atlanta.

Outfielder Cody Bellinger also left Friday’s game with left hamstring tightness, and he wasn’t in the Dodgers’ starting lineup Saturday. Manager Dave Roberts is cautiously confident Bellinger’s injury isn’t serious.

The Dodgers’ latest round of injury problems has left the champs shuffling their roster. Earlier Saturday, the Dodgers selected infielder Andy Burns from Triple-A Oklahoma City, optioned right-hander Mitch White and designated right-hander Dennis Santana for assignment.

The 30-year-old Burns hasn’t played in the majors since 2016, when he got his only 10 games of big league experience for Toronto without getting a hit. He is batting .330 with five homers and 20 RBIs in Oklahoma City.

Backup first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo (calf) is expected to begin a rehab assignment in Oklahoma City on Sunday. World Series MVP Corey Seager, whose hand was broken by a pitch May 15, is still about two weeks away from starting a rehab assignment.

Bellinger, Seager, infielder Gavin Lux, outfielder AJ Pollock and rookie Zach McKinstry have all missed long stretches of this season with injuries. Starting pitcher Dustin May (right elbow) and infielder Edwin Ríos (right shoulder) are already out for the season, while key reliever Corey Knebel (right lat strain) is unlikely to return until late in the season, if at all.

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New York Yankees’ Luis Severino leaves rehab start with apparent leg injury

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NEW YORK — Yankees right-hander Luis Severino was removed from a minor league rehab start Saturday with what appeared to be a painful injury to his right leg.

Severino was making his second rehab start following Tommy John surgery in February 2020, pitching for High Class A Hudson Valley against Brooklyn. The 27-year-old began to hobble quickly after throwing a pitch in the second inning. He limped behind the mound, struggling to put weight on his right leg. Coaches and a trainer had to help him off the field.

The Yankees did not provide an immediate update.

Severino looked sharp in his first rehab appearance, reaching 98 mph with his fastball. He pitched 1 2/3 innings Saturday, allowing a run, a hit and a walk while striking out three.

New York had hoped Severino could return this season to solidify a rotation led by Gerrit Cole. A two-time All-Star, Severino won 19 games in 2018 and signed a four-year, $40 million deal prior to 2019, but he has thrown just 12 big league innings since due to shoulder and elbow injuries.

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