RailRiders 2018: Rolling With Pace Of Play Changes

April 5, 2018 GMT

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s an unlikely scenario, but interesting,


Tie game, 0-0, heading to extra innings. One pitcher is dealing — 27 up, 27 down. But when he goes to the mound to start the 10th, there’s a runner at second base.

Runner moves to third on a ground out. Scores on a ground out. Pitcher gets another ground out to end the inning. The home team doesn’t score in the bottom of the inning, and the pitcher loses despite retiring every batter he faced.

“That kind of stuff doesn’t make a lot of sense,” RailRiders catcher Kyle Higashioka said. “So, let’s just hope that never makes it to the big leagues.”

With minor league baseball’s new pace of play, that scenario — however unlikely — is possible.

Extra innings in the minor leagues will begin with a runner on second base this season, likely the most drastic of the changes. Mound visits will be limited to six in Triple-A and pitchers will have a 15-second allowance between pitches with no runners on base.

“I think the main thing right now, is the visits to the mound, which we’ve got to make sure everybody is aware of what a visit is and what a visit isn’t,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said. “And we had talks with the umpires, so we’re pretty clear on that.

“And also the extra inning thing. The extra inning thing is something that saves arms for the pitching staff. And I’ve seen it before, with my daughter playing in softball. It’s exciting for the fans, too. We’re up for it and whatever they want us to do, we’ll try to work the games that way.”

Shortening extra-inning games in the minor leagues has obvious benefits, notably saving pitcher’s arms and reducing the moves a team might have to make the day after running through its bullpen.

“The extra inning thing, of the rules, that one probably bothers me the least in the minor leagues,” said Greg Legg, manager of the Phillies’ Double-A team Reading and former Red Baron. “For instance, if we played 17 innings, after that game or during that game we’re probably having to call our farm director saying we need a couple more pitchers to get through the game tomorrow because so and so’s pitching, and he can only go five. So, I understand that one from that standpoint.”

A runner at second with no outs would change some strategies. Teams in the 2017 World Baseball Classic bunted the runner over five of the eight times the rule was in effect. Mitchell said he doesn’t think the RailRiders will utilize an approach where they’re automatically try to bunt the runner over. It will depend more on personnel and whether the team is home or away.

“Because if we can give the hitter a chance to get him over and get him in, I think that’s beneficial for not only the team and for their development, too,” he said.

International League teams travel by bus, too, so if the rule could end a getaway day game a little earlier ...

“The season’s so long that there’s no reason, if you have a travel day and say you’re in Gwinnett and you’ve got a game on a travel day and you’ve got to play the next day and you’ve got a 16-hour bus ride ahead of you — we’ll see how it plays out,” RailRiders outfielder Mark Payton said. “I think it’s an interesting rule.”

The pitch clock is five seconds shorter than it was last season (down to 15 from 20 seconds with no one on base), which Higashioka said sounds quick. Pitchers showed they can easily manipulate it, however, because the clock shuts off as soon as they reach the set position. Or, batters could call for a timeout and step out of the box.

“As an outfielder, we’ve got to be ready every play, but maybe the ball doesn’t get hit every time out there — whatever the case is — so it’ll keep you locked in pitch to pitch,” Payton said. “And honestly from an offensive standpoint, it won’t speed your at-bats up, but the time in between at-bats where you’re not thinking so much about the last at-bat (would be shorter).”

One of Legg’s main concerns is how pace of play rules might affect minor league general managers. Shorter games mean less time to sell concessions, less time for promotions.

RailRiders president and general manager Josh Olerud doesn’t seem too worried about whatever effect the rules might have on revenue, saying he thinks any change will just be incremental.

“Now for the in-game entertainment side, we do have to do things a little bit different and be a little bit more sharper,” Olerud said. “We have to think about how we’re going to utilize the 2:25 between each inning.

“I hate to say it, but it is what it is and it’s part of the process. I’ve heard every angle and some people are flat against it and some people say, ‘What’s five minutes?’ ”

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Know the rules

A look at the pace of play changes enacted by minor league baseball this season:

Extra innings

■ Will begin with a runner on second base. The runner will be the player in the batting order position previous to the leadoff batter of the inning (or a substitute for that player).

■ The runner who begins an inning on second base shall be deemed to have reached second base because of a fielding error (for earned run average purposes), but no error shall be charged.

Mound visits

■ Visits by coaches and position players will be limited based on the classification level. Triple-A will be allowed six visits per team; Double-A will be allowed eight; and Single-A clubs will be allowed 10. There will not be a limit on mound visits for Short Season and Rookie-level clubs.

■ For any extra-innings played, each club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning.

■ What’s a mound visit? A manager or coach trip to the mound to meet with the pitcher shall constitute a visit. A player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher, including a pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player, shall also constitute a mound visit, regardless of where the visit occurs or the length of the visit, except that the following shall not constitute mound visits:

- Discussions between pitchers and position players that occur between batters in the normal course of play and do not require either the position players or the pitcher to relocate.

- Visits by position players to the mound to clean spikes in rainy conditions.

- Visits to the mound due to an injury or potential injury of the pitcher

- Visits to the mound after the announcement of an offensive substitution.

■ In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a “cross-up”), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit.

Pitch clock

■ Pitchers at the Triple-A and Double-A levels will be allowed 15 seconds to begin their wind-up or the motion to come to the set position when no runners are on base. The pitcher does not necessarily have to release the ball within 15 seconds, but must begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position to comply with the 15-second rule with no runners on base.

■ With runners on base, the pitch timer will go from 15 to 20 seconds.

■ The timer starts when the pitcher has possession of the ball in the dirt circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber, the catcher is in the catcher’s box and the batter is in the dirt circle surrounding home plate.

■ The timer will stop as soon as the pitcher begins his wind-up, or begins the motion to come to the set position.

■ If the pitcher feints a pick off or steps off the rubber with runners on base, the timer shall reset and start again immediately.

■ Should the pitcher fail to begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in 15 seconds with no runners on base, or 20 seconds with a runner on base, a ball will be awarded to the count on the batter. Should the batter fail to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with seven or more seconds remaining on the pitch timer, a strike will be awarded to the count on the batter.

■ The first 15 days of the season (April 5-19), will serve as a grace period, with players receiving warnings for infractions. Beginning April 20, rules will be enforced as written.