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MLB players’ union agrees to have intentional walks without pitches

Tony Clark, Executive Director of the Major League

Tony Clark, Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, addresses the media after leaving a meeting at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., during Yankees spring training on Feb. 28, 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. — Major League Baseball wants to tackle its pacing issue at the micro level by erasing the four-pitch intentional walk, a relatively infrequent and not all that time-consuming aspect of the game.

Union chief Tony Clark said Wednesday that the players’ association had agreed to MLB’s proposed rule change, which is expected to be put in place for the 2017 season, but there has yet to be an official announcement.

“As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes,” Clark wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however.”

Under the proposal, a team likely will signal from the dugout to put the batter on first base rather than have a pitcher deliberately throw four balls, a change that doesn’t bother Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

“I don’t think that’s a big deal,” Girardi said Wednesday at Steinbrenner Field. “For the most part, it’s not changing the strategy. It’s just kind of speeding things up, so I’m good with it.”

Girardi’s reaction wasn’t all that surprising. For managers, a four-pitch intentional walk can be a dangerous thing, even if it only blows up on rare occasions. Last September, Gary Sanchez hit a 400-foot sacrifice fly on a pitch that Rays reliever Enny Romero attempted to throw outside the strike zone. Two months earlier, Girardi called off an intentional walk after Dellin Betances airmailed a pitch to the backstop in trying to put the Giants’ Brandon Crawford on first.

“Yes, there’s that rare chance that it could lead to something big for you and your club,” Girardi said. “But there’s also that thought process, you don’t like getting pitchers out of their rhythm. And when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm.

“I’ve often wondered why we don’t bring in your shortstop, have the pitcher stand at short, and let the shortstop walk him, because they’re used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is.”

Apparently, Girardi no longer has the need to consider any of his radical theories, and Betances, for one, was relieved when told that the change is close to becoming permanent.

“I was working on that this spring,” Betances said, smiling. “Now I guess I don’t have to.”

In discussing the intentional walk, a change that probably trims less than a minute from a game’s pace, Girardi made a few other suggestions, including an NFL-style wireless speaker in the players’ batting helmets. The NFL already has perfected the communication tech between the sidelines and quarterback, so Girardi believes it would be easy to use in baseball, rather than spending time using signs.

“You’d put earpieces in certain people,” Girardi said. “Then it’s not a sign from me, a sign to the third-base coach and then a sign to the player. Instead of catchers having to always go out and change signs, they could do it through communication, and I think you could speed the game up a lot that way. The thing about signs, signs take time. It slows things down.”

Number of intentional walks in MLB in recent years

2016: 932

2015: 951

2014: 985

2013: 1,018

2012: 1,055

2011: 1,231

2010: 1,216

2009: 1,179

2008: 1,310

2007: 1,323

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