WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Last week, Major League Baseball finally announced rule changes aimed at cutting downtime during games. The announcement came before the spring training schedule began to maximize teams’ adjustment periods before the start of the regular season. But three games into their Grapefruit League season, the Nationals remain in the dark on how the rules will be implemented and enforced.
The most notable rule change was to limit teams to six mound visits per game, plus one visit per extra inning. The rule book defines a mound visit as any time a manager goes to the mound to meet with a pitcher, a position player confers with a pitcher or a pitcher leaves the mound to confer with another player.
“It’s going to be a lot more communication without having to go out there,” Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said. “So that’ll be the big thing. It just puts a different aspect in the game. We’ll have to say, ‘OK, let’s get different systems set up so that we don’t have to go out to the mound and count as a visit.’ But we can change the signs behind the plate. So that’ll be a little bit of an adjustment on the pitchers’ side, just to be prepared for not making a trip every time we have to change the sign. When you make a trip, you’re going to have to have something that is a little more pertinent out there.”
But the Nationals are wondering about gray areas. Daniel Murphy, for example, likes to walk to pitchers during games for a brief pep talk or for a strategy chat. Last week, he wasn’t sure if doing that would ever be worth it under the new rules. Wieters wondered what happens when a first baseman approaches a pitcher to tell him if he was covering first base with a runner on. He wondered if there would be a warning for that.
Then again, a concrete penalty isn’t outlined in the rule changes. Instead, players who “consistently or flagrantly violate” the rules will be subject to discipline from the commissioner’s office. Manager Dave Martinez said MLB chief executive Joe Torre is scheduled to visit Nationals camp this spring for further explanation, though he didn’t know exactly when.
“We’ve talked about it, and I told the catchers to ask, ask the umpires,” Martinez said. “So that we get an idea of what they’re going to call and what they’re not going to call. But it’s going to happen. There’s guys that go to the mound to go get the rosin [bag]. It’s just their routine. So we got to figure out what they’re going to call, what they’re not going to call.”
Another change was the shortening of commercial breaks during the regular season by 20 seconds — to 2:05 in local television games and 2:25 in national television games. Most of the time, Max Scherzer said, the allotted time won’t present problems. But the two-time-defending NL Cy Young Award winner, who pitched with the new rules installed in his spring debut Sunday, envisions a potential dilemma that could surface in the National League, where the pitchers hit and, therefore, could be on base when he’s due up to lead off the next inning.
“You have to be a little crisp,” Scherzer said. “You need to be ready to go out there immediately, fire and it’s game on, so it’ll be good if I don’t hit. If I ever get on deck and have to get off, you could run out of time. If it was AL, there wouldn’t be a problem whatsoever. But in the NL I hope there is flexibility and understanding like, ‘Hey look, I’m on deck or hitting or on the bases, so I’m going to need an extra 45 seconds to get out there.’ So hopefully that’s taken into account when we try to work with pace.”
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is an advocate for a pitch clock, a measure utilized in the minor leagues over the past few years, and he has the power to install one for next season. But at least a few inside the Nationals clubhouse don’t believe one should be installed.
“The pitch clock doesn’t seem to solve the problem, in my opinion,” Scherzer said. “When I talk to minor leaguers, they talk about how you can just call time at any time and it can reset the clock. Or you can just step off and it resets the clock. So if the pitch clock is really not going to accomplish what MLB’s overall, arching goal to speed up the game.”
In the meantime, time is needed to understand the rules currently in place. That’s what the spring is for.
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY: 31