March 30, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

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Manny Machado gets his first pitch clock violation in MLB

Borea, Arizona. — In the first inning of a spring training game against the Seattle Mariners here Friday, San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado put his left foot in the batter’s box, slammed his bat into home plate and spun before coming to set. It’s a routine he’s done countless times.

But in this case, Machado had run out of time. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakeney stood up from the crouch, pointed at Machado and then his left wrist to signal the first pitch-clock offense in Major League Baseball history—albeit on an exhibition game.

Under a set of new rules meant to speed up the game and inject more action, there will now be a 30-second clock between batters. Once the batter starts, pitchers have 15 seconds to start their motion with the bases empty or 20 seconds if there is a runner on base.

Despite this, speculators have their own regulations. They must be in the batter’s box and look at the pitcher with eight seconds left on the clock. Machado was ready with about six seconds left. So, before he could even see a throw or swing the bat, he had already hit one hit on the count.

“This time flies by,” Machado said after losing 3-2. “We’re in the record books at least,” he later joked.

Spring training, after all, is exercise. The 2023 regular season begins March 30, so the next five weeks are not only for pitchers to build their arm strength and for hitters to hone their timing but also for everyone — from umpires to coaches to players — to adjust to some of the biggest changes in sports history for a single season.

“It’s going to be an exciting year for sure,” said Machado.

Over the decades, MLB games have grown longer and, for a variety of reasons, feature less action. The average game time in 2021 set a record at three hours and 11 minutes while in 1976, for example, the average game time was two hours and 29 minutes. The overall MLB batting average last season was . 243, the lowest since 1968, according to Baseball Reviewer. Strike rates have risen to record levels in recent years.

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So, as part of a collective bargaining agreement between MLB team owners and its players’ association prior to the 2022 season, the two sides agreed to an 11-person committee—which includes players but is controlled by MLB—that handled the rule changes. Outcome 2023: Addition of the stadium clock, prohibition of defensive turnovers and increase in bases size.

“The first weeks of spring training will be an adjustment period, and we intend to change the behavior as quickly as we can,” said Morgan Sword, who oversaw rulebook adjustments as MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations. He, along with other MLB executives, descended on the Peoria Sports Complex in the Phoenix area on Friday to watch one of the first games this spring training.

They expect games to look the same as they did in the 1970s and 1980s: more stolen bases, more hits, and more infield athleticism.

“I think you’re going to see a game that moves at a bit more pace,” said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. “I think you’ll see more balls in the play. I think you’ll look on the field and see players in positions the way most of us grew up and see them positioned. I really think they’ll see a move towards better form in our game.”

The Mariners and Padres offered glimpses of what might be to come. During his two innings, the Padres released pitcher Nick Martinez, a relatively fast-paced pitcher who takes the longest time when runners are on base, threw most of the pitching with several seconds left on the clock. But the clock got dangerously close to zero in just a few counts.

“I had to hurry,” Martinez said after the game. “I thought I wouldn’t think about it today, and I was definitely aware of that.” He later added, “There are times when I like to kind of slow the game down so that it’s fun. That happens more in the season because there’s more at stake.”

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But, in turn, Martinez said he also noticed the fighters rushing to get into place. As the game drove off, Kolten Wong, the Mariners’ second baseman, got all out of the batter’s box but quickly hopped back in and was ready with one second to spare.

“The guys are going to get a little tired working at this pace, whether it’s starting offs or relievers throwing a lot of pitches,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “There will be a tolerance factor to this as well.”

Starting Robby Ray of the Seattle Mariners said he was ready for the pace and didn’t feel rushed during his two runs.

“I feel like a few times, I took my time getting back on the mound and I thought, ‘Oh, better speed it up a bit,’ and I looked up and I had 11 seconds on the clock,” said Ray, who, like Martinez, added that pitch call devices used by catchers And jugs also helped simplify the process.

As the clock was ticking on Machado, Ray said he could hear the referee telling Machado to speed up. Machado admitted he was trying to push things to the right timing and Blakeney warned him when he had two seconds left.

“It will speed up the players,” Machado said, later adding, “When you hit, you have to get up and go. You don’t really have the routine that you’ve been doing for 10 or 11 years.”

The new rules were the focal point everywhere in baseball, from Arizona to Florida to MLB’s headquarters in New York. Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shuhei Ohtani—among the slowest pitchers in baseball, particularly with runners on base—said adjusting to the new ballpark clock was his biggest concern going into spring training. To help, the Angels, like many teams, set up watches on the practice fields. The rules have a fair amount of nuance and some potential for strategizing.

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San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler said of the rules, “If you ask anyone in our camp or anyone around baseball if they’ve done it, I’ll call PS if everyone’s okay so far.” He later added of his players, “What I see and am happy about is that there are a lot of questions being asked.”

During halftime on Friday, the impact of another of the new rules was evident. After Machado’s violation – the only one in the game – was allocated. Then left-handed batter Juan Soto hit a single to the right side of the field that would have likely resulted in a double play at the end of the inning had it not been for the ban on defensive turnovers. The new rules required two outfielders on each side of second base, which allowed more room for Soto’s ball to cross.

“Lefties are going to love it,” said Machado, who rushed to third base as a result. “It would be nice to see more attacking, more first-to-third runs and maybe more goals scored. But then you’ll also see very good defence.”

About 10 miles from Machado, the Kansas City Royals defeated the Texas Rangers, 6-5, in a high-scoring game on Friday. In that game, there were three violations of the court clock, all by pitchers.

When the Padres threatened in the ninth inning—there was a mound visit and the addition of a pinch runner—the game was still buzzing. They loaded the bases, but David Dahl flew out to deep right field for the final out.

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