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Major League Baseball testing new rules in independent Atlantic League

Fernando Abad pitches against the the Sugarland Skeeters

Fernando Abad pitches against the the Sugarland Skeeters in Game 3 of the Atlantic League Championship Series at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip on Sept 28, 2018. Major League Baseball will test new rules in the Atlantic league in 2019, including pitchers having to face a minimum of three batters or reach the end of the inning before exiting game, unless they become injured. Credit: Daniel De Mato

As a “part 2’’ to last week’s announcement that Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League have reached an agreement allowing MLB to test experimental playing rules in the independent league, the two announced specifics Friday afternoon.

The new rules and equipment changes, which will go into effect when the league’s 2019 season begins in late April, include electronic plate umpire assistance in calling balls and strikes; requiring two infielders to be on each side of second base when the pitch is released (effectively eliminating overshifts); a ban on non-pitching change mound visits except in the case of a medical issue; pitchers having to face a minimum of three batters or reach the end of the inning before exiting a game, unless they are injured; increasing the physical size of the bases from 15 to 18 inches square, and reducing the time between innings from 2:05 to 1:45, according to a news release.

The Atlantic League is an eight-team league that includes the Long Island Ducks.

“Part of the goals of the partnership between Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League is to test the rules in order to study the potential impact,” Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff said. “  . . . I think that the Atlantic League has positioned itself as a high level of play that Major League Baseball recognizes as an ideal testing ground for these potential playing rules and equipment changes.

“If it works to improve the offense and player safety and quicken the pace of the game and [improve] fan engagement on the Atlantic League level, they’re going to be able to look at that and say, ‘We think it’s going to do the same on the Major League level.’  ”

Pfaff said plate umpires will wear an earpiece and relay the strike or ball call after receiving it from a radar track system known as TrackMan.

“This is not replacing a home plate umpire,” Pfaff said. “ . . . Umpires will still call interference, check swings, plays at the plate, etc. . . . Having the TrackMan in place will benefit pitchers on pitches that are often not called because they’re missed by an umpire and [will benefit] pitchers that are able to exploit areas of the strike zone that traditionally haven’t been called but are strikes as defined by the rulebook. [Those pitches] are now going to be called.”

As far as elimination of the overshift, Pfaff said it will create more “defensive action and baserunning,’’ which is a major goal of the partnership.

MLB will analyze the effects of these changes before deciding on potential additional modifications during the All-Star break and in future seasons, the release said.

During the second half of this season, the pitching rubber will be moved back from 60 feet, 6 inches to 62 feet, 6 inches, with the objective of increasing player safety and the frequency of balls in play, Pfaff said. There will be no change to the height or slope of the mound.

Around the bases

Some of the rules the Atlantic League will be experimenting with this season:

AT PLATE

Computer help with balls/strikes.

ON MOUND

Banning non-pitching change visits, except for medical reasons.

Pitchers must face minimum of three batters, or reach end of inning (unless there’s an injury).

IN FIELD

Increasing physical size of first/second/third bases by three inches.

Requiring two infielders being on either side of second base (eliminating shift).

Reducing time between innings from 2:05 to 1:45.

New York Sports