The Cubs barely wound up on the fringes of the Michael Pineda controversy. They didn’t get caught up in PineTarGate, which is impressive in a month defined by Cubbie Occurrences.
Pineda is serving a 10-game suspension after getting busted at Fenway Park last week for having a “foreign substance” smeared across his neck, adding a new chapter to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Pineda had gotten away with the smudges on his right hand on April 10 at Yankee Stadium, because Boston manager John Farrell let it slide, but this unwritten rule couldn’t be ignored.
In between those media firestorms, Pineda didn’t attract that much attention on April 16, overshadowed by the Masahiro Tanaka buzz. Pineda dominated the second game of a doubleheader in which the Cubs scored zero runs. Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he didn’t have any issues with Pineda that night in The Bronx.
“We didn’t see anything,” Renteria said.
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Pineda (2-2, 1.83 ERA) put together six scoreless innings and allowed only four hits to a Cubs lineup that won’t be confused with the 1927 Yankees. Pineda struck out three and left after 89 pitches on a day that began with ice on the 161st Street subway platform and the Yankee Stadium tarp and ended with strong winds ripping through the ballpark.
“If you’re gonna do it, just don’t let anybody see it,” Cubs reliever James Russell said. “I figured that was common knowledge, but I guess not. It’s not like people haven’t done it before. I don’t see any problem with it. Hitters use pine tar, why can’t we? Especially in cold weather, it’s really tough to just use rosin. It doesn’t really work too well, unless you’re drenched in sweat. We haven’t really been doing a whole lot of sweating in Chicago.
“There are a couple different things you can use, but first and foremost is not getting caught. It kind of got blown out of proportion, but that’s how it’s going to be with cameras nowadays.”
The Cubs already know that after a brutal April where the focus only occasionally drifted back onto the field. It’s everything from the trashed birthday cake to the mascot fights to the rooftop turf battles to the plans to sell minority ownership shares.
There’s Bud Selig grandstanding for the Ricketts family, Matt Garza comparing playing for the team to being in prison and putting up the second-worst record in the National League.
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Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva played for Farrell, an old pitching coach, in Toronto and understood Pineda forced the Red Sox into PineTarGate.
“You put it where it’s so visible, something’s got to be said,” Villanueva said. “The rule’s the rule. You hear a lot of hitters coming out saying: ‘I’d rather a guy have grip.’ Because it’s true – when they rub up the balls with the mud or whatever, you can’t really feel the ball in your hand.
“People talk about BullFrog, the sunscreen. When it started, it had to be by accident. A guy, you know, went outside, put a little on and went to the rosin bag: ‘Oh, that’s a little tacky. It helps.’ We all have our tricks.
“We all use something. As long as it’s a better grip on the ball and it’s not effecting what the ball does – you’re not spitting on the ball or using Vaseline – I don’t see anything wrong with it. But the rule is pretty black and white.
“What does it mean? Hopefully, now that it’s put out in the spotlight, maybe we’ll get together and we’ll talk to MLB people and define the rule a little better.”
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Villanueva, who’s part of the players union’s executive board, agreed with Carlos Beltran, the respected Yankees outfielder calling for teams to be required to hire full-time translators for Spanish-speaking players.
“We’re lucky here that we have a manager who’s bilingual, but I think the team should have at least, say, another coach,” Villanueva said. “It would help a lot. That’s why so many Asian players put it in their contracts. You would think that the team wants that – to be able to communicate with their players.”
Whether or not something got lost in translation, all eyes will be on Pineda, who might get another shot at the Cubs when the Yankees visit Wrigley Field May 20-21.