How do I load thee?
Let me count the ways, with the help of Atlanta Braves reliever (and former Washington National) Luis Ayala:
Gotta have some on the opposite shoulder, just in case….
Can’t forget some on the side of the pants, where the ball rests when you’re pitching from the stretch….
It looks totally natural.
But let’s not stop there!
We also need some on the front of the pants, so when we pick at our pants after every pitch, like below:
…or rest the ball atop our thigh like this for a brief moment:
…it doesn’t look suspicious.
While I don’t have any gifs of Mr. Ayala because it would break my laptop, let’s just say he’s a fidgety dude in between pitches. A brief paraphrasing is provided below:
Rub the brim of the hat, tug at the back of the hat, take off hat, rub head, take off glove, rub ball, pick at back of jersey, wipe off ‘sweat’ on opposite sleeve, pick at side of pants, rub front of pants, wipe face, rub ball again…
…and now we’re ready to make a pitch!
While I stop short of making any inflammatory claims about Ayala’s pre-pitch rituals and any possible rule bending aspects of it, we have plenty of instances of pitchers looking for an advantage from an array of substances; the Nats even had a run-in last year with another former reliever of theirs, Joel Peralta. It happens. It happens a lot, truthfully. However, it struck me last night during the Braves – Nats game that Ayala’s uniform sure did have a lot of curiously stained areas, more than what you’d expect from a pitcher who just came out of the bullpen. While the life of a reliever can be dull and oftentimes the bullpen is a playground of the mind as far as coming up with ways to stay in the game, even in-game bullpen shenanigans usually don’t lend themselves to the impressive array of uniform stains seen on Ayala. Add to it Ayala’s success on the movement of his pitches more so than their velocity and you have an environment where a little extra stickiness can provide a little more tail or dip to an otherwise average pitch. Even MASN’s FP Santangelo mentioned during the broadcast how Ayala’s fastball acted essentially like a slider from a lefty, it had so much late arm side tail.
Again, it’s not my place to place blame on a guy who has never been reprimanded for doctoring balls; Ayala’s arm slot and pitch selection have remained relatively consistent throughout his career and they lend themselves to throwing pitches with a lot of late life and movement to them.
However, if one were to want to do that sort of thing, ‘for entertainment purposes only’, well… it might look a lot like this.