SARASOTA—The Orioles have played eight games under the new rules, and while most players have seemed to adapt well to the changes, there have been some issues.
Some of the new rules haven’t had much of an effect yet. Despite having Jorge Mateo and Cedric Mullins, who combined for 69 steals last year, they haven’t tried to exploit the rule limiting unsuccessful pickoff attempts or mound disengagements to two.
The Orioles have attempted just five steals, tied for the fewest in baseball and succeeded on three, lowest in MLB.
There are some teams that have been aggressive in the early days of spring play. The Cincinnati Reds have tried to steal 18 bases and been successful on 17. Kansas City has stolen 16 of 17, and Atlanta 17 of 21.
Neither Mateo nor Mullins, who left on Monday for the World Baseball Classic has attempted a steal this spring. Perhaps manager Brandon Hyde is waiting until later in the Grapefruit League season or even the regular season to test the new rules.
There’s no Rougned Odor in Orioles camp this year to play in short right field against left-handed pull hitters, a practice that’s been banned. There must be at least two infielders on each side of second base and can’t play on the outfield grass. Some teams in exhibition games have brought an extra outfielder to the infield, which is permitted.
Hitters seem to be hitting the way they have in recent years, pulling the ball and not going the opposite field, though some left-handers have picked up an extra hit or two.
In the Orioles’ first Grapefruit League game, Ryan O’Hearn, who’s only hit to the opposite field in 18 percent of his career at-bats, singled in to what would have been the shift last year.
The biggest change has been the pitch clock. Pitchers have 15 seconds between pitches, 20 with runners on base. Batters must be ready with eight seconds left on the clock.
Anthony Santander, who leaves after Monday’s game for the World Baseball Classic, where the new rules aren’t in effect, was called for not being ready in the first game of the spring. Santander insisted he was ready. He also drew a fourth ball on a pitcher’s violation.
Hyde has admitted he’s missed some pitches because of the speedy pace of play and predicts that the new rules will produce higher quality baseball.
“I think it’s going to get better as guys are getting more used to it,” Hyde said. “I saw yesterday, there were a lot of violations on both sides.”
After Sunday’s game at Tropicana Field, Hyde noticed violations had something in common.
“I think the majority of the ones you see are after a foul ball or first pitch of the at-bat,” he said. “The tempo, we just aren’t used to. Fortunately, we have a few more weeks to figure that out. A bunch of those I didn’t see either. I would have gotten struck out a couple of times. I would have been 0-1 at the plate.”
Orioles reliever Nolan Hoffman was penalized a ball on his first batter because he hadn’t completed his warmup tosses with 30 seconds remaining on the clock.
Many of the younger Orioles, including Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman and Kyle Stowers as well as starters Kyle Bradish, DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez have all experienced the pitch clock in the minor leagues.
“Guys, especially the major league guys aren’t quite used to the tempo of it, coaching staff included,” Hyde said. “I think as we continue these [final] three weeks, we’ll get more accustomed to it, and play will improve.”
Orioles games have been crisper, and not just because of the pitch clock.
“If you’ve watched us play defense this first part of spring training, we’ve played really well defensively,” Hyde said. “The games have definitely moved. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Orioles’ first game of spring training featured 15 runs, 14 walks and two hit batsman, and lasted two hours, 54 minutes, the longest of the spring. A Major League Baseball official said that without a pitch clock that game may have taken more than four hours.
Since then, the Orioles have played three quick games lasted 2:16, 2:18 and 2:20.
“It’s definitely a different style of game where you have to be on your toes defensively,” Hyde said. “It doesn’t give the hitters a whole lot of time to think. I haven’t seen the numbers, results of what the spring is around the league. Our games have been noticeably different. I feel like we’ve been playing pretty clean games.”