Just as Japanese pitcher Shohei Ohtani was pulled from a game due to a blister on Wednesday, a study was released suggesting Major League Baseball's balls may be contributing to the problem.
Blisters are nothing new for Ohtani who suffered repeatedly from them in 2016, the year he was MVP of Japan's Pacific League and was also voted the PL's top pitcher and designated hitter. His two shortest outings this season, the right-hander's first in MLB, were impacted by blisters on the middle finger of his pitching hand.
But in a study released online by The Athletic, Dr. Meredith Wills found the laces on current baseballs are 9 percent thicker than they were through 2015.
"The seams themselves have more texture to them (we're not talking stitch tightness) and therefore are sort of rougher," Wills told Kyodo News on Thursday by text. "(It) makes it much easier to get blisters if you grip at the seams."
A study commissioned by MLB found that the current balls have less drag and therefore fly further. But the committee that performed the survey failed to identify the cause of the ball's superior aerodynamics and was not informed that the laces had been changed.
The committee suspected that manufacturing advances could result in a "more spherically symmetric ball."
Balls used in Nippon Professional Baseball have a slightly tackier surface than those used in the majors, making it easier to spin and impart extra movement on breaking pitches. This forces majors-bound Japanese pitchers to make adjustments to the way they throw.
But former Japan national team pitching coach Hiroshi Gondo speculated in 2016 that the biggest issue major league pitchers need to deal with is quality control.
"The Japanese balls are not all identical, but they're fairly uniform," he said. "In the majors, pitchers have to get used to one ball being really different from the next."
Wills believes that thicker, stronger seams may contribute to the balls maintaining a more uniform shape, but since the ball's introduction in 2016, the frequency of pitching blisters has increased markedly, Ben Lindbergh found in his July 2017 study for The Ringer website.
If the thicker seams are the reason MLB has solved its uniformity issues only to end up with more pitchers getting blisters, then the majors may have only traded one problem for another.