The conversation baffled Ian Kennedy. For a second straight start on Wednesday night, an umpire approached the mound, questioning the position of his hands in the stretch position.
This time, it was home plate umpire David Rackley in the seventh inning of an eventual 3-2 loss to Detroit. Rackley requested that Kennedy adjust his hands while taking signs from catcher Salvador Perez.
Kennedy attempted to comply. But the situation still left the Royals seeking clarification from officials for what has turned into one of the more curious side plots of the year.
Why are umpires suddenly so concerned with Kennedy’s hands?
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“It’s been the last two starts,” Kennedy said. “And I don’t know what it is, but tonight they waited until the seventh inning to tell me. And I’ve been pitching like that my whole career.”
The issue appears to stem from Kennedy’s hand placement while he stands on the rubber and takes the sign. With a man on base, Kennedy stands on the rubber, with his chest open toward the plate, his right hand resting on his thigh and his glove tucked on the front of his left leg.
This is what it looks like:
This is also the position the umpires have objected to. When the issue came up last week in Houston, Kennedy said the first base umpire told him that there needed to be separation between his hands so he could tell when he came set. The problem on Wednesday was less clear — to Kennedy and Royals manager Ned Yost.
“I don’t know what the deal is,” Yost said. “I mean, the kid has pitched in the big leagues a long time. This is the first two times anybody has ever said anything to him about it.”
On Wednesday, Rackley, the home plate umpire, brought up the issue in the seventh. Here is what Kennedy looked liked after adjusting his hands.
The difference is slight, of course. But muscle memory can be a powerful thing, and Kennedy said he felt slightly awkward while trying to remember where his hands were. In the moments after receiving the request from Rackley, Kennedy walked a batter to put two runners on.
“It takes my focus off during that time, where I’m trying to figure out what pitch I’m gonna throw,” Kennedy said. “It’s kind of baffling me a little bit.”
It’s possible, Kennedy said, that the umpires are concerned about the runner on first base being able to see if his hands are together or apart while taking the sign. But even that seemed off, Kennedy said, because he eventually does come completely set in a different position, with his hands together.
“They bring it up as they can’t see when I come set,” Kennedy said. “But I come set in a totally different position. I just sit there and take my sign in that position, and I come set and I bring my hands up. It’s two different spots. It’s not like there should be any confusion.”