MLB focuses on pace-of-game efforts

MLB focuses on pace-of-game efforts

LOS ANGELES -- Major League Baseball directed its 30 clubs on Wednesday to pick up the pace of each game by primarily moving hitters in and out of the batter's box quicker and making pitchers adhere to a strict 12-second limit in between pitches, rules that are already on the books.

The game's pace has been an object of discussion since last October's World Series, when the Rockies and Red Sox played a 4 hour, 19 minute Game 3 at Coors Field. Boston won the game, 10-5, and went on to sweep the World Series.

At that point, the matter became an acute concern of Commissioner Bud Selig and was discussed at great length at last November's general managers' meetings in Florida. It also came up for discussion at the owners' meetings last week in Milwaukee. Club officials were briefed on the subject by Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, during a series of conference calls on Wednesday.

"Improving pace of game is an important goal that will be emphasized," Selig said in a statement. "Clubs and fans share the common objective of seeing a game that is played as sharply and crisply as possible. We have reminded our staff and our umpires to enforce the rules in order to achieve the progress we need in this area."

During the calls, managers, GMs and MLB in-game entertainment staffs were advised that umpires will be more vigilant in enforcing existing MLB rules 6.02(a), 6.02(b), 6.02(c) and 8.04.

Rule 6.02 principally involves the batter's movement around the plate. Umpires will now quickly ask batters to move from the on-deck circle to the batter's box, will not grant time to a batter once the pitcher delivers the baseball, and will demand that the batter not linger outside the box in between pitches.

If a batter bails while the pitcher is in his motion, the pitch will be called as if the batter remained in the box. If the batter declines to quickly move back into the box in between pitches, an automatic strike will be called without the pitcher having to throw the ball.

Reds manager Dusty Baker was on the conference call and said he expected to have a meeting with his team, explaining the rule amplifications as soon as he saw the printed directive.

"You have to do what they tell you, what choice do you have?" said Baker, who's in his third managerial tour and first year with Cincinnati, prior to Wednesday night's game against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

As far as Rule 8.04 is concerned, that one involves a prompt delivery of the ball to the plate by the pitcher. The plate umpire will actively encourage the pitcher to take his place on the rubber, warn a pitcher for his first violation of exceeding the 12-second limit between pitches, and call a ball for each subsequent violation by the same pitcher.

In addition to invoking these rules, umpires will promptly break up conferences on the mound; pitchers will be asked to arrive quickly to the mound in between innings to go through their eight warmup tosses so the inning can begin promptly; relief pitchers will be asked to enter from the bullpen promptly upon the signal of the manager; each club will be directed to designate a reserve player or coach to warm up pitchers in between innings in the event that the catcher is still putting on his equipment; and bat boys will be asked to have a second bat readily available if the hitter breaks the bat he's using.

"I don't think there's anything that's going to create any real problems," Braves general manager Frank Wren said before Wednesday night's game against the Mets at Atlanta. "Getting guys in from the bullpen in a timely manner is one those kinds of things, I think are easy and manageable things to do. I do think some of the points may be more difficult to do as it pertains to the strategy during the game."

Clubs also will be subject to fines if they fail to adhere to MLB rules regarding in-game entertainment, public address announcements and the playing of music and video presentations.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who's in his first year in Los Angeles after 12 heading the Yankees, said he didn't take part in the call.

"I guess I'm fired, then, because I missed that one," Torre said. "They're just trying to reinvent the game. I used to get called all the time [in New York]. We were warned all the time. Not that you don't take the warnings seriously, but we had a ballclub that made the other team change pitchers a lot and made the other teams throw more pitches than anybody. It was one of those things we were punished for."

Just to punctuate the point, the Yankees, sans Torre, won an eight-and-a-half inning, 15-9, decision over the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on April 16 that lasted 4:08, which is just what MLB is now trying to avoid.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.