Defiance comes in multiple forms. In the case of Royals pitcher Eric Skoglund, who will spend the first part of the regular season in baseball exile, defiance came with tears and a wave of emotion.
Saturday, Skoglund spoke to reporters in Arizona and addressed his 80-game suspension for violation of the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. MLB announced the suspension on Jan. 16, and cited Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators S-22 (Ostarine) and LGD-4033 (Ligandrol) as the banned substances.
Ten words into responding to a question about what it was like for him to tell general manager Dayton Moore about the failed test, Skoglund got choked up, tried unsuccessfully to gather himself and had to step away for nearly two and a half minutes.
“It was a relief,” the 6-foot-7 left-hander said when returned after he apologized to members of the media. “I was just going through a lot those past couple months because I knew I didn’t do anything maliciously. Having his support was a good feeling for me, him knowing who I am personally. For me to have to accept an 80-game suspension for something I didn’t maliciously do, it was a relief to finally be able to tell someone and speak about it.”
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Moore acknowledged in his January statement that Skoglund “unknowingly” made a mistake. After being told an appeal would most likely be denied, Skoglund decided to inform the Royals and accept the league’s punishment.
Skoglund, 26, repeatedly claimed he did not know how he could have ingested anything that would cause a failed drug test in November.
“We have no idea,” Skoglund said. “Something got into my body without me knowing. It was scary. It just kind of makes you think what could it have been. That’s the hardest part, not knowing. Because I’m not a guy that’s going to cheat the game. I didn’t do anything maliciously. It’s not the type of person I am. It’s not my character. It’s not how I was raised, so it sucks and we couldn’t find anything. That’s what’s going to eat me for the rest of my career.”
Skoglund said he and his agents scoured any and all receipts and backtracked through everything he ate but came up with no answers. He got to the point that he had to consider whether or not something he ate from Smoothie King, Chick-fil-A or Chipotle could have been the source.
He insists the only changes he made to his offseason diet were being more vigilant with his adherence to the vitamins, protein and supplements cleared by MLB and distributed by the Royals.
“We did everything in our power, my agency and I, to fight it,” Skoglund said. “We turned in everything that we had. We went back to bank statements three weeks prior to finding out, and I didn’t change anything in my offseason that I’ve done in previous offseasons. I think the only thing I did was eat cleaner.”
Skoglund, who made his major-league debut with the Royals in 2017, went 1-6 with a 5.14 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) last season. He would have been one of the pitchers competing for a starting rotation spot during spring training this year.
The cold reality for manager Ned Yost is that he and his coaching staff have still got a lot of sorting out to do when it comes to the pitching rotation and at least 10 viable candidates. He can’t afford to dwell on Skoglund’s absence.
“I’ve got other guys to consider that can pitch for me, he can’t,” Yost said. “He’ll stay here and continue his spring training. He can start a rehab — I don’t know when it was — but we can start getting serious. When the time comes and he’s back to be reinstated, then we’ll start looking into, seeing where we’re at and what we got.”
Skoglund’s suspension makes it two in as many years for the Royals. Last March, outfielder Jorge Bonifacio received an 80-game suspension for a violation of the MLB drug program after testing positive for the banned substance Boldenone.
“These guys have been told do not put anything into your mouth that the trainers and strength and conditioning guys don’t give you,” Yost said. “And you can get this stuff that looks like so nothing, take it and get suspended.”