Pitch clock debuts during spring training with faster games, some drama


The first day of the rest of Major League Baseball history dawned Saturday in Florida and Arizona, where all 30 teams played spring training with the newly implemented pitch clock that served as a metronome, one that MLB officials hope will keep the rhythms of the game will enliven and appeal.

The first crisis of the new rules regime came about 2 hours and 39 minutes later when home plate umpire John Libka called a game-ending third strike on Atlanta Braves Cal Conley with two outs and the bases loaded in a ninth inning tie – a strike that he called because Conley was not in the batter’s box by the time the pitch clock showed eight seconds left. His Braves and the Boston Red Sox ended their spring debut in a 6-6 tie.

“I don’t think so [rule] was meant to end a game like that,” said Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker told the athletics, and of course he was right. MLB officials have not pushed the once unthinkable pitch clock into America’s pastime to change the results. They implemented it to shorten games and create less downtime, to increase the pace and shorten the time between more exciting baseball action. And Saturday, the unofficial start of the pitchclock era, did it all with a flourish.

Eight Grapefruit League games started at 1:05 PM Eastern. All eight were complete by 4 p.m. The Red Sox and Braves combined for 12 runs, 19 hits and eight walks, but finished in 2 hours and 39 minutes. The Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates combined for 16 runs on 20 hits and 10 walks. They finished in 2:47 – faster than the average nine-inning regular season game in 2022 at 16 minutes with nearly double the average runs scored.

“It was a nice pace,” said Cincinnati Manager David Bell after the Reds’ 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Guardians lasted 2:23. “It wasn’t rushed, it just kept everything moving.”

Per MLB, the average time of the first 19 spring training games was 2:36. The average time of spring training games in 2022 was 3:01 – or 25 minutes slower. MLB officials laughed when they saw that latest number Saturday: When they tested the pitch clock in the minors last year, average playing time fell by…25 minutes, some MLB representatives trumpeted in selling the rule this winter .

There were a total of 34 fouls in the first 19 games, or 1.79 per game. When MLB tested the pitch clock in the minors, the foul count started at 1.73 per game. At the end of the year, the average was less than one.

“It’s going to take some getting used to for some guys, but some guys, the feedback was they liked it because they got to prepare,” said Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez. “There wasn’t much thought. Some of our infielders said, “You should get ready right away.” I was like ‘Yeah, that’s good.’ It keeps you sharp.”

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MLB baseball executives fanned out to Arizona and Florida to see the new rules in effect. Most of them had seen it all many times before – in minor league stadiums across the country, where time limits have been tested in recent years. They know that skeptics argued that the Braves-Red Sox scenario — high-leverage situations and the end of the game, especially in October, not February — was a blow against the clock. But those executives also know that for the rule to work or have any strength by the time the playoffs roll around, the umpires must enforce it firmly now. By learning to endure an awkward draw in February, everyone can avoid a postseason-changing moment in October.

Conley said Libka told him the player looked down when his allotted time expired. Conley said he was watching the catcher, who he remembered standing. Replays showed that the catcher, Elih Marrero, was indeed standing at the time of the foul. But according to the rule, the catcher must be in the catcher’s box with nine seconds left on the clock. It doesn’t require him to crouch.

“I’m not sure the pitcher was ready to go — the catcher definitely wasn’t,” Conley told reporters.

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‘You must forget it [what the catcher’s doing]; you better watch the pitcher, as the rule says,” Snitker said. Then he came up with the idea of ​​trying to use the catcher to distract the batter into violating the timer. If there’s anything guaranteed by the pitch clock, it’s that everyone in the sport is brainstorming ways to exploit it.

The same seems to be true of the rule that paralyzes the infield shift. Few players have broken the bounds of the rule, which requires two infielders on each side of second base, with their feet in the sand, when the pitcher releases the ball. But infielders from multiple teams, including Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Josh Harrison, waited until the last second to move their feet from the edge of the grass to the edge of the sand.

But the pitch clock attracted the most attention on Saturday. MLB hopes it will get little attention by opening day.

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