Feb 20, 2015 11:36 AM

MLB makes small pace of game changes, passes on bigger steps

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) Major League Baseball is slowly addressing the lagging pace of games.

MLB and the players' association announced an agreement Friday to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter's box in many cases. MLB also will post stadium clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks starting in spring training, and it no longer will require managers to always come onto the field when they request video reviews by umpires.

But the sides limited penalties to warnings and fines, and not automatic balls and strikes. The fines don't start until May 1 and are capped at $500 per offense.

Many of the more radical ideas experimented with during the Arizona Fall League were not adopted, such as a 20-second clock between pitches, a limitation of pitcher's mound conferences involving catchers and managers, and no-pitch intentional walks.

Still, even the modest changes are too much for players, used to their routines and reluctant to alter them.

"If you rush a hamburger, it's not going to be completely done. There are going to be too many mistakes. You're going to rush the game. It would just be terrible. I don't think there needs to be a time limit," Miami Marlins pitcher Mat Latos said.

Said Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton: "I'm not a big fan. There's a lot of thinking involved. When a pitcher steps on the rubber, there's a lot going on. There's thinking in the dugout, the coaches, everyone. Why speed that up?"

Baseball has been contemplating the issue for nearly a decade. In February 2005, the batter's box rule was announced as an experiment in the minor leagues.

Still, the average time of nine-inning games as increased to a record 3 hours, 2 minutes last year, up from 2:33 in 1981.

Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander says the change will be tougher on batters than pitchers.

"I hope it screws up their whole rhythm and everything," he said, jokingly.

MLB cannot make unilateral changes to playing rules without the consent of the players' union unless it gives one year prior notice, so an agreement was necessary for any 2015 alterations. The World Umpires Association also approved.

"The players believe that enforcing the rules that currently exist regarding between-inning breaks and plate appearances is the best way to address the issue of pace of play," union head Tony Clark said in a statement. "We're confident that today's announcements will have a positive impact on the pace of the game without jeopardizing the integrity of the competition."

The pitch clock will be used in the minor leagues at Double-A and Triple-A, where union approval isn't needed.

MLB said it is likely to announce only fines involving repeat flagrant violators. In the AFL, strikes and balls were called as penalties, and the average game time was reduced by 10 minutes.

The rule requiring hitter's keep a foot in the box contains many exceptions, including swinging at a pitch, getting forced out by a pitch, calling time, faking a bunt and wild pitches and passed balls.

"I think it's something that's going to take some time," San Diego Padres catcher Derek Norris said. "You've got guys playing for seven, eight years that have always stepped out of the box and taken a practice swing."

Clocks will be installed on or near outfield scoreboards and on facades behind home plate, near most press boxes. Inning breaks will be counted down from 2:25 for locally televised games and 2:45 for nationally televised games. Pitchers must throw their last warmup pitches before 30 seconds remaining, with exceptions if the pitcher or catcher is on base when the previous half-inning ends.

"These changes represent a step forward in our efforts to streamline the pace of play," said Rob Manfred, who took over from Bud Selig as commissioner last month. "The most fundamental starting point for improving the pace of the average game involves getting into and out of breaks seamlessly."

MLB will make a donation to the union's charitable foundation based on compliance with the new rules.

The sides also announced changes for the second season of expanded video review by umpires.

Managers no longer will have to leave their dugouts to call for replays, unless the play in question ends an inning and the defensive team must be kept on the field.

"I didn't like to run out there and as soon as I turn around, people are yelling from the dugout to go back," Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's a waste of time. It's embarrassing. Nobody really wants to do it. If we can just hold the game and tell the umpires we want to just take a look at it. We only have 30 seconds to look at it, who cares if you're on the field or not?"

In addition, plays involving whether a runner left a base early or touched a base on a tag-up play will be subject to video review for the first time.

Managers also will retain the challenge for every overturned call, not just the first, and managers will have two challenges during tiebreaker and postseason games and the All-Star Game. A manager will be required to use a challenge to review violations of the home-plate collision rule, but the crew chief may call for a review from the seventh inning on if a manager is out of challenges.


AP Baseball Writer Noah Trister, AP Sports Writer Steven Wine and Associated Press freelance writers Mike Cranston, Gary Schatz and Jack Thompson contributed to this report.


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