MLB rule changes include limit on mound visits, but no pitch clo -

MLB rule changes include limit on mound visits, but no pitch clock

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Rob Manfred (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File) Rob Manfred (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Rules changes to speed up Major League Baseball's pace of play have been finalized for the 2018 season, and do not include a pitch clock.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has made it his mission to speed up games, and a pitch clock was at the center of discussions this offseason. The controversial method—which has been implemented throughout the minor leagues since 2015—will have to wait at least another year before entering the game at the highest level. However, other rule changes were announced Monday which could assist in quickening the pace and in decreasing the overall time of games.

The most significant change: for the first time, teams will be limited to six mound visits in a nine-inning game. Teams will receive an additional mound visit if the game goes into extra innings. These visits do not include pitching changes. According to the release by MLB, any visit by a manager or coach will constitute a mound visit, as will visits by position players to the mound to confer with the pitcher, regardless of the length of the visit. The pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player would also constitute a mound visit, so the location of the conversation doesn’t represent any sort of loophole.

"It’s just going to be more coordination," manager Mike Matheny said. Monday. "Before we have a middle infielder or a catcher go out,  we’re going to have them check with us and we’ll say, ‘Go ahead.’ It’s obviously something we’re going have to keep close track of. We’ll probably going to have to try to communicate a little bit differently where you’re trying to do that from your position. Trying to do that with 43,000 in the stands could be a little bit of a challenge."

Matheny said the changes weren't unexpected and has long maintained that if the fans are clamoring for change, the league has an obligation to listen. While mound visit limitations aren't particularly drastic (six visits in one game outside of pitching changes is not all that common and there are no strict penalties in place), the Cardinal skipper does believe it will make teams more cognizant of how much dead time exists in a game. 

"We’re wanting the same thing fans are wanting. We want to keep a good pace, we want to see action," he said. "I’ll tell you I watched the postseason and there were times guys were going out to the mound so often I was getting tired of it, so I get it."

One important exception to the limit has to do with sign cross-ups between a pitcher and a catcher. If, after the six visits have been exhausted, the home plate umpire deems the pitcher and catcher are not on the same page regarding signs, the umpire could then allow a brief visit for that purpose.

Every pitcher on the Cardinal roster has two sets of signs; each unique to them. To vary the presentation and make it more difficult for opposing teams to figure out what pitch is being called, a battery will switch up which set of signs they are using. If wires get crossed, the potential misfires could be dangerous. If a catcher is expecting a curveball and gets a fastball in the upper nineties, someone could get seriously hurt. Most of all the men behind the plate without a glove to protect them. 

"I think the umpires are as concerned about that as anyone else," Matheny said. "If it ever gets to the point where the catcher says, ‘Look we just can’t get on the same page here. Somebody is going to get hurt. I’m trying to give him some signs and he’s just not picking it up.’ The umpire is going to say, ‘Get out there.’"

As for other communication between pitcher and catcher, the Cardinals already have policies in place to help communicate non verbally as much as possible. They use cues to tell a pitcher if their form is faltering or if they are making a specific mistake in their delivery.

"We talk about that in "Catcher University" out there in the cage (behind the spring training clubhouse). What’s this guy’s cue?" Matheny said. "That stuff can happen from behind the plate. We use sign language."

In addition to the mound visit changes, the league will enforce a time limit of 2:05 between innings for locally televised games, 2:25 for nationally televised games and 2:55 for postseason games.

Early last year, Manfred threatened the idea that the MLB Players Association may not have a say in the pace of play changes for 2018, as the commissioner had the power to impose them unilaterally, without their agreement. Fortunately, it did not come to that for these changes, according to a statement from Manfred.

"I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players,” Manfred said of the changes. “My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions."

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