Twins adjusting to baseball’s new pace-of-play rules

April 3, 2018 GMT

PITTSBURGH Lance Lynn kept misfiring with his fastball in the first inning Monday, and once the bases were loaded with Pirates, Paul Molitor took action. He sent pitching coach Garvin Alston to the mound to give the Twins righthander a moment to collect himself and focus on pitching to Colin Moran, due up next.

While Alston, Lynn and catcher Jason Castro conferred, the scoreboard down the left-field line registered the event: One of the six dots next to the Twins logo disappeared. The Twins had only five mound visits remaining.

Minnesota has visited three stadiums since departing spring training, and MLBs new rule about mound visits, established in hopes of improving the flow of games, has been evident in three different ways on scoreboards: A box labeled Mound Visits on Washingtons main board, a column reading MVR (mound visits remaining) in the line-score totals in Baltimore, and the side-board dots in Pittsburgh.

The effect has been much less evident on the field.

Its been pretty much a non-factor for us, so far, said Twins manager Paul Molitor, whose team has been charged with a mere five visits in four games. They dont carry over, unfortunately.

But the Twins, who had an off day Tuesday, have spent time evaluating what effect the rule might have, and discussed some ways to deal with it. Molitor knows that there inevitably will be games when the rule might come into play.

If you want to put a play on late in a close game, make sure the infielders are all on the same page, youll need to be aware that you have to have one available, he said. You dont want to be careless about it.

Thats why both Twins catchers say, in instances where they want to discuss strategy or get the signs right, they look to the dugout before trotting out to the mound, in effect to get Molitors OK. Weve talked about checking first, making sure [the coaches are] aware of why its necessary, said Mitch Garver, backup to Castro this season. Just dont waste them is the message.

And even Alston, when he sees something he wants corrected, makes sure Molitor is OK with going out, which is probably a good way to start, the manager said.

Players and managers are still getting used to the boundaries and definitions that might come into play. If a pinch-hitter is announced, hes allowed to confer with the pitcher without being charged with a visit, and they can chat during a replay or injury delay, too.

Castro said for any broad message to the pitcher watch the runner, the infield is in, etc. he might just yell from the home-plate area, when in days past he might jog out for a brief chat. You can give some verbal commands from your area, but I dont know if theres a cutoff point, a line you cant cross, Castro said. Im not sure how much space you have to cover for it to be a visit, but I dont anticipate testing that line.

He has made a few adjustments, though, like spending more time talking about the upcoming hitters with the pitcher between innings. That way, in the event that you have to go out there, its to give the guy a break, not to talk strategy, Castro said. Im not a guy who typically likes to make a ton of them, but if things arent going well, youve got to make visits. If were having to make four, five, six mound visits, thats probably not a great sign.

Molitor believes the rule will come into play as more inexperienced pitchers reach the majors late in the year; for now, hes using veterans who dont need in-game conferences, for the most part.

To Castro, the rule change that hes paying more attention to is the reduction in time between innings to two minutes, five seconds.

That came up in spring training I need to be cognizant of making sure, when a reliever comes in, that were on the same page with signs, but I have to leave enough time for him to get his warmups, Castro said. That was the bigger challenge. If it takes me calling down to the bullpen between innings, well see if thats how we go.

The new rules may seem arbitrary, especially since the effects figure to be subtle fewer stoppages in the late innings of close games. The goal isnt necessarily to reduce game times, but to make the games flow better.

I can see the usefulness. Too many stops isnt good, Brian Dozier said earlier this spring. Just as long as were not changing the fundamentals of the game.

And mound visits? Theyre not always effective anyway. After Alston visited Lynn on Monday, Moran hit a 3-2 pitch into the seats for a grand slam.