NEW YORK (AP) — Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco was charged with a ball Wednesday night when he tried out a new rule that allows pitchers to touch their fingers to their mouths while still on the mound, and got it wrong.
Nolasco licked his fingers while standing on the rubber with New York Mets cleanup hitter Mike Jacobs at the plate in the first inning.
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A rule change put into effect by the Official Playing Rules Committee this offseason allows a pitcher to go to his mouth on the mound, but not while he is touching the rubber. Previously pitchers were only allowed to touch their fingers to their lips and mouths off the mound, provided they wipe their hand before gripping the ball.
The rule was changed to help speed up the game.
Mets reliever Fernando Nieve was penalized on opening day when he failed to wipe his hand before gripping the ball.
Crew chief Wally Bell explained after the game Monday that pitchers still need to wipe their hands regardless of if they are on the dirt or the grass.
“You can go to your mouth on the dirt — not on the rubber — but you have to wipe,” Bell said.
Nolasco did exactly what was not allowed. While on the rubber and looking in to catcher John Baker, he touched his mouth to his hand. Home plate umpire Laz Diaz immediately signaled ball and Nolasco appeared agitated.
Bell, the third base umpire, ran in to explain the call. Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez came out of the dugout to get clarification and calm his pitcher.
“There was confusion on the pitcher’s part. He didn’t understand the rule,” Bell said after the Marlins beat the Mets 7-6 in 10 innings on Wednesday night. “Since it’s a new rule I went out there and said what happened.”
Nolasco said he didn’t know the rubber was off limits, but he didn’t think the rule would be a problem in future starts.
“Here’s a rule because it’s something new, people are going to look at it,” Bell said, “and it happened on back to back nights.”
Nieve, who was standing on the grass when he wet his fingers, said Wednesday he was confused by the new rule, which was explained to the players during spring training. New York pitching coach Dan Warthen, however, said Nieve just forgot he had to wipe off his fingers.
Warthen thinks the rule change will help the pace of game, but not until pitchers adapt their routine to the alteration.
“It should expedite the game, when they start to get the feel for it,” Warthen said. “I don’t know how incrementally but it should help some.”