Astros Cheating Again? Pitcher Ronel Blanco Ejected For Using Sticky Stuff

In the top of the fourth inning during the Houston Astros 2-1 win vs. the Oakland A's, umpires found sticky stuff on starting pitcher Ronel Blanco's glove, the first base umpire called the illegal foreign substance, "the stickiest stuff I've felt on a glove," after the pitcher was handed the ejection.

The MLB started cracking down on the pitchers using sticky substances during the 2021 season, after studies conducted showed that it improved the pitcher's grip on the ball, leading to a great increase in the spin rate on pitches, which in return correlated to making it harder for the batter to hit the baseball. As a result, the MLB initiated a new "spot check" as of June 2021, in which the umpires will thoroughly check a player for any signs of a sticky substance on them, which entails inspecting their glove, belt, hat, and even their body parts, every inning, as if they are going through TSA.

Since Blanco wasn't accused of having sticky stuff on his glove until the fourth inning, it may have gotten sticker before going back on the mound. The umpires ejected the Astros pitcher, and more likely than not, he will receive the standard 10-game suspension, as this was the punishment for the crime, when looking at the previous offenders.

The most well-known "sticky stuff" incident happened last season, when New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer was accused of violating the foreign substance rules during a check. Notably, the ace-veteran pitcher claimed it was just sweat and rosin (legal substance used on the mound). Scherzer threw a fit, and was visibly upset by the ruling, claiming his innocence, but he still received the standard 10-game suspension.

The Astros have had their fair share of breaking the rules over the years. As many might remember, the MLB initiated an investigation into the Astros organization awhile back, in which they were found using a system to steal pitch signs from the opposing team during the 2017 season and postseason (parts of 2018 season). Pre PitchCom era, the Astros developed a system, where they were able to know what kind of pitch was going to be thrown by the opposing pitcher beforehand. They pulled this off by watching the live feed on a monitor, and someone would then decode the signs between the other team's catcher/pitcher. Then the team would use noise, such as whistling or clapping to help alert their team's hitter to know what pitch to expect. After trial and error, the most effective way of doing this was through their "banging the trash can method," that is, one or two bangs was a breaking ball, while no bang was a fastball.

This certainly compromised the integrity of the game, as the Astros continued their sign stealing method into the 2017 postseason, in which they won the World Series over the Dodgers, 4-3. 

The punishment for the crime was a $5 million dollar fine for the organization, in addition to giving up first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. To point out the effectiveness of the Astros "sign stealing" method, Houston had a league-leading .278 batting average that season.

Despite having the second-best batting average in the league this season (.261), behind the Dodgers (.263), The Astros are currently fourth in the AL West with a 17-25 record. 

Keeping in mind Blanco's suspension, after serving his 10-game absence, the 30-year-old's next scheduled start will likely also be against the A's, as they will have a rematch series in Oakland, from May 24-26. After pitching three shutout innings against the Athletics, Blanco has a 4-0 record this season, with a 2.09 ERA, 1.06 WHIP.

Related: Astros Make Nationals Fan Addressing Cheating Scandal Turn Shirt Inside Out Before Entering Stadium