Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer works the first inning of...

Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer works the first inning of a baseball game against Atlanta on Monday in Atlanta. Credit: AP/John Bazemore

ATLANTA — Max Scherzer is not a fan of the pitch clock, which he witnessed during his recent minor-league rehab assignment, or the prospect of it coming to the majors. But he has another idea to speed up games: Enforce the rules as they already exist, and maybe make them more strict.

There are other pace-of-play fixes that can and should be pursued, Scherzer insisted, before MLB makes a change as fundamentally foreign as adding a clock to a sport that famously has never had one.

“The clock should be the absolute last thing that we bring into the game, because that says — as baseball players — we can’t fix this problem with rules,” Scherzer said. “I come from the standpoint of, OK, everybody wants to play the game quicker. We need rules to do that, not a clock.”

Scherzer’s proposal, which puts the pace-of-play onus on hitters, makes him sound like, well, a pitcher. But his overarching sentiment was to try other things before resorting to the clock.

“The rules should be: If the pitcher is on the rubber, the hitter has gotta be in the box,” he said. “If you want the game to work quick, let the pitcher throw a pitch. Stop awarding the hitter time so that he can do the countless things, the ticks, the mannerisms.”

His pro-pitcher angle was born anew during his pair of starts with Double-A Binghamton late last month. He was not responsible for performing with the pitch clock — 14 seconds with the bases empty, 18 seconds with a runner or runners on — but faced batters who have become used to it and pitched opposite a minor-leaguer operating under the time limit.

Scherzer acknowledged that the clock is “definitely accomplishing its desired effect, and that is to pick up the pace of the game.” But the big takeaway, he said, was “this is a hitter problem. This isn’t so much a pitcher problem.”

 

Enthused generally about game-shortening measures, Scherzer suggested, say, limiting timeouts to one per plate appearance. He wasn’t interested in a pitch clock, especially with runners on base.

“I completely understand with no one on base, hey, let’s have some tempo. Let’s go, pick it up, keep it moving. If you have no one on base, there’s no reason to slow the game down,” he said. “But with runners on base, man, there’s a lot of stuff that’s going on. Why, from a TV perspective, from a fan experience [perspective], do we need to rush through those situations?”

Scherzer’s work is not a perfect case study. He is in the top quarter of pitchers in pace this season (as measured by seconds between pitches, as relayed by FanGraphs). For every pitcher faster than him, three are slower — many of them much slower. The possible implementation of a pitch clock is about making sure pitchers and hitters both reduce the dead time between pitches.

There are rules in the books that, if enforced more strictly, would seem to help.

Rule 5.04(b)(3), for example, instructs umpires to call an automatic strike on a batter if he does not take his place in the batter’s box after “a reasonable opportunity” to do so. Rule5.04(b)(4) calls for batters to remain in the box between pitches except during certain circumstances (such as if he just swung or is forced off balance by a pitch).

Rule 5.04(b)(2) encourages umpires to not be so giving in allowing hitters to call timeout. A batter asking for time does not mean that that request needs to be granted.

“The umpire should eliminate hitters walking out of the batter’s box without reason,” the rulebook reads. “If umpires are not lenient, batters will understand that they are in the batter’s box and they must remain there until the ball is pitched.”

Scherzer made that point, too.

“That’s where the umpire’s discretion is. But let the umpires have more leeway now to be more aggressive in not awarding time,” Scherzer said. “And if the hitters got used to ‘you call time and don’t get it,’ they’ll quit calling time."

If MLB eventually decides it needs a pitch clock, so be it, Scherzer said. But experiment with other solutions first, just as it is doing now in the minors with the clock.

“I’m a fan of cutting out all the dead time in the world,” he said. “We want quicker games. We would love to play quicker games as players. It’s a good idea. It’s something that we want . . . There’s rules that are there to get the desired effect without introducing a clock.”