SARASOTA—Saturday’s Orioles Grapefruit League opener won’t feature many frontline players. It will attract attention because it’s the first game exposure players will have to baseball’s new rules.
The rules will be enforced beginning with the first exhibition game. There’s a 15-second pitch clock, 20 seconds with runners on base. Batters must be ready to hit within eight seconds.
Pitchers are limited to two unsuccessful pickoff attempts, and the shift is banned; two players must play on each side of second base and can’t be positioned on the outfield grass. Also, the bases are a little larger, both for safety reasons and to encourage attempted steals.
So, how will this work?
“I have no idea,” Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander said. “It takes all spring training to get used to [not] wasting time during the season.”
Santander might be at a disadvantage. He and centerfielder Cedric Mullins will leave Orioles camp early next month to play in the World Baseball Classic, where the new rules won’t be enforced, though Santander plans to keep his timing consistent.
“I think we can use the WBC [to replicate] regular-season games,” Santander said.
Mullins, Santander and new second baseman Adam Frazier will be in the starting lineup when the Orioles play a Minnesota Twins split-squad. Many of the regulars won’t play. Frazier isn’t sure how Saturday’s game will look.
“Probably a little bit sped up and probably a little bit of panic from some guys,” Frazier said. “It kind of goes back to regular baseball before the shift, turning double plays and all that. You’ve got to be close enough to the bag where you can cover it when the ball’s on the other side of the diamond.”
Manager Brandon Hyde has been talking about the shift for eight days, since the first workout for pitchers and catchers.
“I’m looking forward to seeing it,” Hyde said. “We’re trying to simulate it as much as we possibly can, doing the live pitch clock in live batting practices and sides.
“We talked about it as a team this morning. We went over and reviewed some more of the new rules and talked about the shift, bigger bases, definitely the tempo of the game will quicken. We’re trying to make guys are alert as possible. We’re trying to get them as educated as much as we possibly can. We’ll see. I’ve never seen it. We’ll see how it goes.”
At first base, Ryan Mountcastle will get to watch the new pickoff rules up close, but he’s more concerned about getting up to bat in time. If not, he’ll be charged with a strike.
“I’ve got to make sure I’m in the box at the right time and don’t strike out on a violation in spring training,” Mountcastle said. “I’m sure there’ll be a couple of guys here and there that are [annoyed] about it, that will get a strike.”
Starting pitcher Cole Irvin has a reputation for being a swift worker. The new rules don’t bother him, but he wants to be ready.
“I work quick, so it’s not going to affect my game-planning too much,” Irvin said. “It’s going to affect when you do come set. You’re going to have to be cognizant of the clock … have an internal clock. I can’t hold for as long as I used to when I was coming set and trying to delay the timing of a runner advancing.
“All of us knew coming into the year that we’d have to adjust to it. I was training in the offseason, and the lifting schedule was on a timer to get used to being on the clock, having a little bit shorter rest. Cardiovascular-wise, we’re all prepared for it.”
Pitchers have had clocks in their bullpen sessions to get acclimated. They’ll need to know where the pitch clocks will be located in each park and if they can easily see them when runners are on base.
“It’s just going to be a learning curve for the whole month and we’ll see where it takes us the first month of the year,” Irvin said.
None of Saturday’s scheduled pitchers has major league experience and have already worked under a pitch clock. Hyde said that wasn’t planned.
“I think we’re going to able to handle it because there’s probably quite a few guys in the room that have seen it in Triple-A,” Irvin said. “I have no idea how it’s going to affect [us] when games actually start.”
A year ago, Mullins and shortstop Jorge Mateo combined for 69 stolen bases. The two unsuccessful pickoff limit should allow them to steal more.
“After that, you better be quick to the plate or Mateo’s going,” Mountcastle said.
Last season, the average time of a major league game was just under three hours, four minutes. Major League Baseball is hoping the game is crisper and dead time is lessened, and a more diversified and exciting game is the result.
“At the end of the day, it helps move the game a little faster and keeps the game rolling and people entertained,” Mountcastle said.