‘That’s some bad clock management’: How MLB teams are preparing for new rules


On the first day of live training at the Chicago Cubs camp, right-hander Adrian Sampson stood on the hill, ready to face his teammates — just like he did to kick off his previous 11 years of professional baseball.

But this time, the clock hung high behind the striker and the catcher.

When Sampson received the ball after each serve, the clock would be reset to 15 seconds and a countdown would begin. He worked not only on the pitches he threw, but also on how fast he could throw them. Several times he ran out of hours. In the dugout, teammates shook their heads in mock disappointment.

“It’s some kind of bad clock management,” catcher Jan Gomes said with a smile.

Welcome to Spring Training 2023 as a new term has entered the baseball lexicon.

“It will be front and center of everything we do during the spring,” Cubs coach Andy Green said. “We need to get to the point of not embarrassing anyone when the regular season starts. We will press those buttons now to get them ready for April.”

While visiting a dozen teams in the first weeks of camp, it became clear that adapting to the massive rulebook revision would make this spring training one of a kind. In conversations with players, coaches and leaders, it is easy to see that this is not the case. only about receiving the filing within 15-20 seconds.

“I guess the conversation around the NBA shot clock was similar to the one we’re having here,” Detroit Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris said. “The same with [football] play the clock, on the go. Both of these sports have evolved to the point where players compete in new environments and don’t think about these watches. We’re going to get there. Our goal is to get there as quickly as possible.”

From adapting to on-field clocks and shift rules to using large bases on the field, playing at a high level under the new rules is just as important as following them. And there is no consensus among the players who will have to make more serious adjustments when the clock goes down.

“Generally speaking, it will benefit the pitchers more,” said Atlanta Braves starter Spencer Strider. “We can still control the pace.”

His teammate, standing a few feet away, disagrees: “I’ll stay in the box for quite a while,” baseman Matt Olson said. “I think it’s going to be a bigger transition for pitchers. They may have to take the ball. [violation] or just throw the ball at the last second.”

Players have over 30 spring practice games to prepare for the changes before the bright lights and regular season control arrive.

“The best thing about all of this is that we have a month of games where results don’t matter,” said Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “Players can make mistakes and there is no significant penalty for that in terms of win/loss.

“Let them experience it. This will be a great teacher for all of us and how we should adjust. And what will we face when the season starts.”


Pitchers not only learn how to work the ticking clock, but for the first time, they can call their games from the mound. PitchCom is now available for two-way communication between pitcher and catcher after being introduced to pitch-selectable catchers last season.

Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright used it on his first day on BP live, telling his catchers that he wanted to throw by pressing them on the device on his body. And according to the 17-year major league veteran, new tech could be the key to keeping up with game time.

“Once I get the ball back, I’ll push the buttons,” he said after practice.

However, Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy revealed a potentially comical snag: “We’re worried about whether the catcher hits [PitchCom] and the pitcher hits him at the same time. They go back and forth and time is running out.”

There is also a greater chance of human error when using advanced technology. If a player presses the wrong button to serve, time can be a factor.

“I had to shake things up a couple of times,” Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito said with a laugh. “I was just getting used to the buttons and where everything is. I accidentally called a pickup truck when no one was at the base during a live BP session.”

Optimizing the process will take time, and every little change in a pitcher’s routine will make a difference, which is why PitchCom watches and devices are common even in the back fields of training camps.

“It follows that you can’t be the same pitcher that always stays the same when he releases the ball,” said Colorado Rockies manager and former MLB pitcher Bud Black. “We are working on it”.

The pitchers were confident in their early pitching adjustments with empty bases in the camps. But live batting practice can only prepare them, giving the spring games importance as an opportunity to work on what at times may seem like a completely new job description.

“Now I feel like a quarterback. I read the defense, remember the game clock and make sure I get the ball on time.” Strider said. “We might have to play default [pitch] if time is running out.

Pitchers participating in the World Baseball Classic this month face additional challenges. There won’t be any new MLB rules for the tournament, so they’ll have to adapt again when they return to spring training.

“I’m going to enjoy myself as hell without a watch,” Rockies and Team USA reliever Daniel Bard said. “I will cherish the 40 seconds between pitches. This is the last time in my life when I go out to pitch without a watch.”

Bard epitomizes the most common player against time: the leveraged reliever who often has to face the other team’s best hitters when the game hangs in the balance.

“Selfishly, I want more time if I’m facing the middle of the Dodgers,” Bard said. “Why are you in a hurry with this?”

Teammate Kyle Freeland nodded in agreement but added, “I think we need to get used to being uncomfortable. It’s adaptation or death.”


Although so far there have been more pitching violations than hitting violations, no less big changes are expected for the hitters, who must be in the batter’s zone and alert the pitcher with eight seconds left.

It became an early talking point in the spring when a Grapefruit League game between the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves ended with loaded bases and a tie because the third hit was called for a foul against Atlanta’s Cal Conley for not being at the ready. position.

While live BPs didn’t allow hitters much practice in these situations – many teams didn’t have watches for them to see – spring games will give them plenty of reps, especially when they have to make one of the toughest new decisions: staying in the box after pitching. , since exiting it can take precious time.

“Maybe take one step out of the box instead of both feet,” said Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar. “Just do a quick reorientation. I hope I don’t change too drastically, but these games will help.”

The spring training games also give hitters the opportunity to fine-tune their approaches to another major change that the league hopes will bring more activity to the sport: the rules governing shifting.

Now that the defense has to play with two fielders on each side of second base and all four fielders on the clay, holes are opening up where the displaced quarterback has stood in recent seasons. Traditional pull hitters often felt like they had to try too hard on the plate because the defense was designed to rob them of their natural inclinations.

In fact, the number of runs and the average number of strikes at the start of the game are up compared to spring training a year ago. Players hit .272 through Feb. 28, averaging 11.9 runs. This is compared to an average of 0.259 and 10.6 runs over the same period in 2022.

Part of the growth can be explained by the ability to replace attempts to take a different path or exit a shift with a simpler approach.

“Just going to let my natural swing play,” said Cubs outfielder Cody Bellinger. “I don’t have to think about switching. It will be very interesting. I’m interested to see how it performs in the dirt. [extra] in the right field. It takes so many hits.”


While defenders will have fewer options for where they should stand on the pitch, rules against extreme shifting will actually force teams to put even more emphasis on pre-game defensive preparation.

“There are a couple of positional dynamics to put our players in [places] that they never happened in the recent past, said Green, the Cubs coach. “With runners on base, you can see some infielders closer together than ever before.”

The positioning of the shortstop and the third baseman is the most affected. With a left-handed hitter, the hole at third base can still be opened, as it has been in the past – the third baseman will fill the shortstop position and the shortstop will play in the middle near second base.

“We have to be even more deliberate in how we position players because second base is an even more difficult position than it has been in the last seven or eight years,” Harris said.

One of the biggest questions that remains unanswered in spring training is whether teams will come up with an unconventional defense to bypass the shift.

“The only thing we’ve talked about is that we might see some teams that might be drastic with some outfielders,” Black said of the possibility.

Placing a left fielder on short right field was cited as an example, potentially leaving a lot of room for two other fielders to cover. The Red Sox tried it out against Joey Gallo during a recent game, and so far no executives, managers, or coaches have committed to using this strategy in the regular season, but no one would rule it out.

“Perhaps there is a team that…


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