Jeff BassinESPN4 minutes to read
Major League Baseball is making minor changes to its new ballpark clock rules but won’t change the most important parts of the mandates that make up 25 minutes of game time this spring, according to a note obtained by ESPN.
The document — the fifth of what a source called “explanatory memos” sent by the league this spring — was distributed Wednesday after players on the MLB Players Association’s Joint Competition Committee requested various changes earlier in the week.
MLB, which controls the bases on the field, will continue to have pitch clock parameters used by players throughout the spring: 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base, plus the hitter must be “on alert” in the batter’s box with 8 seconds left.
“On the one hand, we are willing to make adjustments based on input,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday. “On the other hand, we want to give her a chance to see exactly how she’s going to play during an adjustment period in some regular season games before we make any significant adjustments.”
Pitch hour violations fell sharply during the first month of spring training, according to the memo, dropping from 2.03 per game in Week 1 to 1.03 this week, consistent with the decline in minor league tests last season. The average playing time for spring training games decreased from 3 hours and 1 minute to 2 hours and 36 minutes, the memo said.
The explanatory notes dealt with more nebulous issues and possible attempts to circumvent the rules. The most significant part of the memo circulated on Wednesday was to change the league’s replay review rules on potential violations of the infield rotation ban. With teams likely to regularly issue one challenge after another in the hope that one of the four players would be placed two feet on the outside turf—which would nullify the out and return the batter to the plate—the memorandum on battered balls said that only the defender’s fielding position could be challenged.
Other issues addressed include:
• Regarding malfunctions of the PitchCom modules that allow the pitcher and catcher to communicate electronically, players must immediately notify the umpires, who can award time and stop the chime clock. PitchCom has become a vital tool for gamers since its introduction last year. As soon as this week, the sources said, the league is expected to approve its use by pitchers who can call their own games.
• New standards will be imposed on bat boys and bat girls, whose ability to quickly retrieve equipment will aid efforts to speed up the game, according to the memo. The league will evaluate the performance of the bat boys and girls bats and may ask teams to replace them if their performance is deemed to be substandard.
• On brush courts and “big swings” – which either knock equipment off or land a player splattered to the ground – the referees will delay the start of the clock, and if the clock starter starts early, they have the power to wave off the timer.
• In situations where pitchers find themselves far from the mound—whether to cover first base, backup throws to home runs, or third base in a foul territory—the 30-second clock will lag between batters. It is restarted when the starting pitcher returns to the field and the play is made in fair territory.
• Indulgence for catchers who finish an inning on base or at bat. The umpires can stop the 2-minute, 30-second clock between innings at the 30-second mark if the catcher makes a “reasonable effort” to stick to the timer. If you reach this point, the catcher will be allowed to receive one warm-up step from the pitcher and throw it down to second base to ensure that he also warms up his arm.
• Putting the burden on hitters to restart the clock if they take a timeout. Hitters may call time once at bat, and previously the clock would start at 15 or 20 when players entered the batter’s box and were off, which led to the potential for pitchers to carry the ball for long periods of time. Under the new guidelines, a player, regardless of where they stand, must signal to the referee that they are ready to resume play, at which point the referee will ask the player to run the clock.
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