The Pittsburgh Pirates have talked about and prepared for it all winter and into the first week-plus of spring training.
Saturday, the Pirates will get to see the pitch clock in action for the first time when they host the Toronto Blue Jays at 1:05 p.m. in their Grapefruit League opener at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
The pitch clock is one of a slate of new rules going into effect this season in Major League Baseball. In many ways, it might be the most impactful as MLB officials hope the pitch clock speeds the pace of play and eliminates as much dead time between pitches.
Players will have 30 seconds to resume play between batters. Between pitches, pitchers have 15 seconds with nobody on base and 20 seconds if there is a baserunner.
The pitcher must start his delivery before the clock expires. After a pitch, the clock starts again when the ball is returned to the pitcher, the catcher and batter are in the circle around home plate and play is otherwise ready to resume.
Batters must be in the box with at least eight seconds on the clock. Batters can call time out once per plate appearance, stopping the countdown.
When a pitcher fails to throw a pitch in time, the penalty is an automatic ball. When a batter isn’t ready in time, the penalty is an automatic strike.
Clocks will be positioned behind home plate and beyond the outfield.
The Pirates, like every other team, have used the clock during their workouts since spring training began last week. Now manager Derek Shelton, his coaching staff and players are all ready to see it in action.
“Very curious,” Shelton said. “As much time as we’ve spent on it and the amount of conversations that we’ve had, not only amongst the major league staff, the player development staff, and then with Major League Baseball. I’m very, I don’t know if anxious is the right word.
“I think Major League Baseball is doing a really good job of starting at day one. It’s not something we’re coming into March 15. We need to get as many of the kinks out as possible — we’re going to have games in the regular season and learnings — but I’m glad we’re starting it right from the get-go.”
The pitch clock was used in the minor leagues last season. The Pirates prospects I talked with like the concept.
“It took a little getting used to at first but it wasn’t a big deal,” right-hander Quinn Priester. “It makes the game better. It’s a quicker game. It moves along at a lot better pace.”
However, not all the Pirates’ established players are looking forward to the pitch clock. Right-hander Vince Velasquez, an eight-year veteran, believes it will take the cat-and-mouse game between pitchers and hitters away.
“In this game, it’s all about strategizing and really finding ways to get guys out,” Velasquez said. “I think that’s the unique thing about baseball nowadays. There’s tons of talent that’s spread around the league, and hitters are doing their homework just as much as we’re doing ours, but I think it takes a little bit more time to kind of strategize and find ways to incorporate those things. I don’t think, as a pitcher, you want to feel rushed into throwing the wrong pitch.”
One of the other new rules is that a pitcher may disengage from the pitching rubber – either by calling time out or attempting a pickoff throw – just twice a plate appearance.
Infield shifts are gone as all four infielders must have both feet within the infield dirt and two must be on either side of second base when the pitch is delivered.
The size of the bases has been increased to 18 square inches from 15 square inches. The idea is to encourage more stolen base attempts by slightly lessening the distance between the bases.
Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes says he is willing to give the rule changes a chance before determining whether he likes them.
“They are trying to make it a more fast-paced and exciting game, create some more action, and there is nothing wrong with that,” Hayes said. “I’m like everyone else. I’m curious to see what the game is like with the new rules.”
Veteran backup catcher Kevin Plawecki has a hard time trying to be so open-minded, though.
“I feel like when you start doing automatic strikes, automatic balls, automatic runners advancing to bases, automatic runs scoring possibly, just based off of a step off, or a pickoff, to me I think that just changes the integrity of the game,” Plawecki said.
I am a baseball traditionalist. However, I am also a realist.
Baseball is becoming less popular, especially with young people. The sport needs a way to attract more fans.
Whether the new rule changes help more people fall in love with the game remains to be seen. MLB had to try something, though, and I will give it credit for that.
And if means getting home from the ballpark at a more decent hour, that would be so much better.