With spring training games now underway, we have now seen the rule changes for 2023 in action. So far, the one that’s been noticed and commented on the most is the 15-second pitch clock. Most skeptics of the new rule have cited the time limit on the pitcher as the chief concern. Ironically, however, the two most prominent incidents of pitch clock chaos so far have involved violations by the batter. The clock will certainly take some getting used to by pitchers and batters alike over the next month. It may cause some early frustration, and may require some modifications down the line. Still, the new feature should eventually achieve its desired goal and serve as a welcome addition to the game in the long run.
Pitch Clock Causes Early Chaos in Spring Training
MLB’s exhibition slate opened up Friday afternoon with three games on the docket. Early on in the first one, a tilt between the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, the baseball world immediately got a taste of the new pitch clock and its accompanying restrictions. The most discussed restriction over the offseason was the pitcher having 15 seconds to deliver the ball after receiving it. The one that flew under the radar, though, is that the batter must be in a set position facing the pitcher after eight of those seconds. Padres star Manny Machado failed to follow this rule as he dug in for his first at-bat:
Now that we got our first look at the pitch clock, we see our first clock infraction
Manny Machado started off his at-bat, 0-1 because he took too long to get into the box pic.twitter.com/pUcAdyZAkx
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) February 24, 2023
Machado paid the price, albeit a small one, for this infraction: an 0-1 count. He quipped afterward that he “might be down 0-1 a lot this year.”
Machado’s mishap paled in comparison to what took place on Saturday. The Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves were coming toward the end of a seesaw affair. The Braves rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game 6-6 and had the bases loaded with two outs and a full count. Then, this happened:
The Braves' first spring training game vs. the Red Sox ends with a pitch clock violation strikeout. pic.twitter.com/1w1fxPNUxs
— Baseball GIFs (@gifs_baseball) February 25, 2023
Braves hitter Cal Conley initially thought the infraction was on Red Sox pitcher Robert Kwiatkowski, which would have resulted in a walk-off walk, and he scampered toward first base. Instead, Conley was called out and the game ended in a tie. While Friday’s occurrence mostly played for laughs, this one caused some controversy, with lots of worrisome speculation over future postseason games potentially ending in that fashion.
A Bumpy Start, But Things Will Improve
It is understandable that some baseball fans, particularly the more purist crowd, view the pitch clock as an upheaval that doesn’t seem worth it. What has transpired early in spring training isn’t doing much to quell their concerns. Although the pitch clock is causing some chaos already, it’s to be expected that an adjustment period will be needed. This is one of the benefits of spring training. It affords a chance to break in the new rules so players are (hopefully) prepared by Opening Day. The fact that the clock debuted in the minors last year and received mostly rave reviews should be an encouraging sign.
While batters were the most responsible for rule infractions this weekend, many pitchers will also need time to adjust. There are quite a few very deliberate pitchers who will need to shorten their routine to 15 seconds or less. In some cases, this won’t happen overnight. But the more reps each pitcher and batter gets in under the new system, the more normalized it will become.
Depending on how well players adjust, it’s not out of the question that the time will eventually be extended. Maybe it’s decided that the average pitcher needs 20 or 25 seconds instead of 15. Maybe a batter needs 15 seconds or so to dig into the box. Allowing a few extra seconds, either way, would maintain the spirit of the rule while still achieving the ultimate goal of shortening games. It’s possible this will happen down the line, but for spring training, and likely beyond, MLB has a wait-and-see attitude. Baseball fans should, as well.
Main photo credits:
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA Today Network