MESA, Ariz. –- The beginning of the Cactus League season Tuesday will usher in the A’s first encounter with Major League Baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.
In an effort to steer the time of games back under the three-hour mark, MLB and the players’ union agreed to rules that regulate, among other things, the time a pitcher takes to warm up, and under what conditions a hitter can step out of the batter’s box. The instant replay rules have also been modified. A manager is now required to stay in the dugout and decide whether to challenge a call.
The rules will be in effect in exhibitions, with all spring training stadiums now equipped with timers that are visible to players and fans. Players will only be given warnings for infractions during spring training and through the month of April. But starting May 1, players can be fined.
“Spring training will be a time that we don’t want to make guys uncomfortable right away,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, “So you kind of monitor who the potential offenders are. To a good extent, they know what they have to do at this point.”
An effort is being made to shorten the commercial breaks between half-innings. For local broadcasts, breaks in play will be kept to 2 minutes, 25 seconds. For national telecasts, 2 minutes, 45 seconds. Pitchers won’t be allowed to throw any more warm-up pitches once the clock reaches the 30-second mark.
That will be an adjustment for relievers who are accustomed to making the trip from the bullpen to the mound at their own leisure.
A’s reliever Ryan Cook said it won’t be an issue at the Coliseum, where the bullpen mounds are close to the field. But many ballparks have bullpens tucked behind the outfield walls, making for a long journey.
“When we’re at home, it’s not a big deal at all,” Cook said. “But on the road in some places … In Cleveland, we’re coming all the way from the back corner and you can’t even see when the manager makes the call. So it does make it tough. Guys have routines and a lot of guys live and die by that routine. There’s gonna be some changing for sure for relievers. It will definitely be an issue in my opinion in some parks.”
A’s catcher Stephen Vogt agrees with the effort to keep hitters in the box. A batter will be required to keep one foot in the box after taking a pitch. Among the conditions in which they can step out -- after a swing, after a brush-back pitch and after a wild pitch.
Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz has been the most vocal of those in opposition to the hitter restrictions.
“For me, it’s not a big adjustment just to keep one foot in the box,” Vogt said. “It’s just keeping guys a little closer. There’s no reason to leave the dirt. Some guys walk on to the grass. It’s just unnecessary.”
Melvin is interested to see how the new instant replay rules are enforced.
“For me, it’s the dynamic of not going out on the field,” he said. “The timing of going out on the field gives you time for the video guy (in the clubhouse to review the play). What I’m looking at is will they be more pro-active in saying ‘Hey, I need a decision now.’”