Amid what would otherwise have been a forgotten Saturday afternoon loss to the Dodgers, Bill Miller’s team of referees objected to a request from Aaron Nola that infuriated Phillies manager Rob Thomson and leads to ejection.
With two out in the top of the sixth inning and the Phillies down three runs, Nola threw down a baseball given to him and asked for a new one. It was refused. This particular team felt that Nola was throwing balls as a tactic to play the clock. They thought he was treading water.
Thomson came out to argue and was thrown out. He got his money’s worth. He left the field to a thunderous standing ovation.
“We have rules with the clock,” Miller told a poolside reporter after the game. “Obviously it’s very sensitive – when the pitch clock goes off and whether or not people are going to bend the rules in place.
“Nola did a good job the first two or three runs. And then as the game went on he started throwing more and more balls where we felt he was trying to reset the clock which is an attempt to bend the rules of the tall clock.
“It is at the judgment of the referee if a player, at any time, attempts to circumvent the rules of the clock.”
Miller listed another example his crew dealt with this season with Alex Cobb of the Giants.
Nola said he has not been notified once this year.
Thomson cited a rule that players can be called for a violation by causing a delay, but said, “It’s not specifically talking about throwing baseballs. Baseballs are all different, they feel different in a pitcher’s hand, and sometimes they go slick in the sacks after six or seven innings. Referees also sweat. I was upset that they weren’t going to let him change baseball.
Pitchers have always asked for new baseballs. It’s not new. It’s only a topic now because, for the very first season, pitchers have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds with the bases occupied, otherwise they are penalized with an automatic ball.
“How fast do you really want the game?” Nola asked rhetorically.
“The balls are smooth, you have to rub them, like every game. Sometimes they are chalky, sometimes they are smooth, sometimes the seams are bigger than others, sometimes they are smaller. It depends. I don’t know how you supposed to slow the clock down when you’re in the windup. What am I gonna do, go down? Sometimes you have to rub the baseball to grab it.
It was a discretionary appeal by Miller and his team, who said a final instance by Nola led to the denial.
“The last thing – he grabbed the ball, he took two steps, he turned around and said I needed a new ball,” Miller said. “He never felt the ball until he took it out and wanted another one.”
Both Thomson and Nola expressed skepticism about an umpire’s ability to gauge, in the moment, whether a pitcher really needs a new baseball or is trying to buy more time.
“I don’t know how you can tell if a guy is actually throwing a baseball because he doesn’t like the feel or if he’s trying to stall unless you’re a mind reader,” Thomson said. .
The test of the sixth inning did not decide the match. Nola was out of the inning a pitch later. The Phillies lost, 9-0. He allowed three runs in his first six innings, was ruled out for the seventh, got three of four batters on base and all three scored. The line was uglier than the start, but it was another outing where Nola rode early and then made too many mistakes.
“It got away from me,” he said.
Nola leads the Majors in innings — no surprise there — but has a 4.60 ERA. He is the only major league pitcher this season to give up a home run in 10 straight games.
“It’s a bit inconsistent,” he said. “Good start, bad start, good start, bad start, etc.”