Slowly, baseball rolls out pitch clock in spring training
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Baseball is on the clock.
The traditionally timeless sport implemented a pitch clock in major league spring training for the first time Saturday in an attempt to hurry up pitchers and hitters and keep the modern fan from tuning out the increasingly lengthy games.
Sixteen games across Florida and Arizona were scheduled to be played under the new rules, which were being phased in without threat of penalty for the first few days or more. There were no notable incidents in the afternoon, when three of the six games approached or surpassed 3 hours.
“I hope it gets the tempo up,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after the St. Louis Cardinals beat Miami, 11-1, in 3 hours, 15 minutes. “It sounds like at the minor league level they get used to it, and that’s the way you go.”
Baseball long has billed itself as a timeless sport, but as average game times creeped over 3 hours, that has become less a badge of honor and more a reason for some young or short-attention-span fans to turn to other forms of entertainment.
Since taking over as commissioner, Rob Manfred has made speeding up games one of his primary goals. Last year, the average length of a nine-inning game fell to 3 hours — five minutes shorter than the previous season but 36 minutes longer than a typical game in 1976.
After pushing for an agreement with the players last season, baseball management decided on its own to experiment with pitch clocks during spring training this year. They have the right to implement them for the regular season but would prefer to reach an agreement with the union.
Los Angeles Dodgers veteran Rich Hill threw seven pitches in the first inning and retired the Chicago White Sox in order.
“I didn’t notice the pitch clock,” he said. “I’m against it, but I think it’s just really a fundamental thing for me. That’s it, period. It’s there, great, maybe we can be aware of it. But if it’s going to dictate the outcome of the game, I would hope everybody who loves the game and watches baseball would be against it for that reason only.”
“If it’s out there and it’s, ‘Hey, we have to pick it up, we’re using the clock to use as a warning or a guideline,’ that would be fine. But I didn’t really notice the clock. I usually pitch with pretty decent pace anyways,” he said.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who has two of the slowest pitchers in the game in Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez, said he thinks they will figure it out.
“They have to adjust,” he said. “That’s just the way it goes. We’ll have those conversations with those guys. I think with spring training, it’s a good opportunity for these guys to make an adjustment.”
They’ll need to hurry.
Of the six early games on Saturday, three finished at 2:30 and under, and three were at 2:56 or more. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees — a rivalry that repeatedly has resulted in four-hour regular season games ending at or near midnight — finished in 3:06 in 85-degree heat in front of a half-empty ballpark.
Each team scored two runs and used two relievers to get through the eighth inning.