Josh Donaldson probably wishes he didn’t call out Gerrit Cole for using foreign substances
Minnesota Twins’ third baseman Josh Donaldson came prepared with a rib protector in case tonight’s opposing starting pitcher, Gerrit Cole, sought revenge. The way Donaldson’s night went, he probably wishes Cole threw at him instead of to him.
Donaldson, facing Cole in a regular-season game for the first time in eight years, went 0-3 with two strikeouts against the New York Yankees right-hander on Wednesday at Target Field. Their matchups would be a small subplot in a game in which the Yankees hit four home runs and currently lead 9-2 if not for what preceded it over the past week.
Six days ago, Cole had one of his worst outings since joining the Yankees, giving up five earned runs in five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. But the stat that really caught the attention of the baseball world was his spin rate. Cole’s spin rate on his pitches has been steadily increasing each of the last four seasons; the spin on his fastball is more than 400 rpm higher now than in 2017, his last year in Pittsburgh, while his slider has increased by 300 rpm.
Against the Rays, though, he experienced a precipitous drop, his average spin rate his lowest in a game since 2018. It came after MLB announced it would start cracking down on pitchers using illegal substances; a day earlier, four minor league pitchers had been suspended.
Cole has long been the subject of rumors and accusations. A lawsuit filed by a clubhouse manager for the Los Angeles Angels last year alleges that Cole asked for sticky substances back in 2019. Cole didn’t help alleviate those rumors on Tuesday when he gave an evasive answer in response to a question about whether he’s ever used the substance Spider Tack.
“I don’t know quite how to answer that, to be honest,” Cole said, hesitating and not quite sure exactly what to say.
Spider Tack was made for powerlifters. It was invented by two strongmen competitors, Mike Caruso and James Deffinbaugh, and manufactured by a company called Spider Strength LLC. Its purpose is to allow the competitors to more easily grab hold of Atlas Stones. It was never intended to be used by pitchers.
Donaldson, never one to hide his opinions, noticed the drop in Cole’s spin rate and singled him out. “Is it a coincidence Gerrit Cole’s spin rate went down yesterday after four minor leagues get suspended for 10 games? Is that possible? I don’t know. Maybe,” Donaldson said following Cole’s last start.
Cole silences Donaldson with nasty stuff
So when the two of them came face-to-face, separated only by the 60-feet, six-inches between the mound and batter’s box, their confrontation got more attention than it otherwise would have. In the first inning, Cole struck him out on a curveball. In the third, Donaldson chased a slider high and in. And in the sixth, Cole got Donaldson to fly out weakly to right field. Donaldson is now 0-9 with five strikeouts in his career against Cole, including the postseason, tied for the most at-bats he has against any pitcher without a base hit.
Cole’s spin rate on his slider on Wednesday was 2,621 rpm, slightly below his season average. On his curveball, it was 2,837, above his season average; it was 2,763 in his last start.
Pitchers using foreign substances to increase their grip and spin on a baseball is nothing new. Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry dared baseball to catch him throughout his career. Mike Scott gives a friendly wink when asked about his magical 1986 season. MLB might never get to the bottom of what pitcher is using what substance, and when.
Whether Cole does or ever did, even on Wednesday, he was back to his dominant self, striking out nine over six innings. That last start looks more and more like a tiny blip on his resume.