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MLB imposes stricter mound visit limits, defers on pitch clocks

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild speaks with relief

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild speaks with relief pitcher Dellin Betances on the mound at Yankee Stadium on July 5, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — As promised, commissioner Rob Manfred revealed his latest pace-of-play initiatives Monday.

For now, he has resisted the implementation of a pitch clock. The biggest change? Effective immediately, Major League Baseball will limit the number of mound visits to six in a nine-inning game, excluding pitching changes, with one more added for each extra inning.

By the new rule’s definition, this pertains to any visit by a manager, coach or position player, with some small exceptions involving injury, an offensive substitution or to clean spikes on the back of the mound during muddy conditions.

If the allotment of six is used up, the umpire can use his judgment to grant the catcher special permission to visit the mound if there is an obvious “cross-up” in signal-calling with the pitcher.

Manfred also targeted the breaks between innings, and MLB will use a timer to count down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised games, 2:25 for nationally televised games and 2:55 for tiebreaker and postseason games, with a maximum of 25 seconds between the last warm-up pitch and the first to the batter. Pitching changes also will be subject to the timer.

The average time of a nine-inning game last season was a record 3 hours, 5 minutes, up from 2:46 in 2005.

“I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players,” Manfred said in a statement. “My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions.”

It’s been a turbulent few months for MLB and the Players Association, mostly because of the depressed free-agent market and butting heads over the correct course of action on pace-of-play. While Manfred has been in favor of a pitch clock, he has agreed to hold off on that contentious matter “in order to provide players with an opportunity to speed up the game without the use of those timers.”

Given the strained relationship lately, Manfred’s decision to extend this olive branch is significant. The commissioner is allowed by the CBA to implement these recent changes unilaterally, but despite the recent saber-rattling between the two sides, he chose a more diplomatic approach for the 2018 season.

“Players were involved in the pace-of-game discussion from Day 1,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said, “and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball. But they remain concerned about rule changes that could alter the outcome of games and the fabric of the game itself — now or in the future.”

New Mets manager Mickey Callaway, a former pitching coach, sees the limit on mound visits as an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage if a team can do a better job with in-game communication than its opponent. “If we can prepare our catchers, maybe we can get an edge,” he said.

MLB also announced some adjustments to video-replay review, with all stadiums to be equipped with direct slow-motion camera angles and new phone lines connecting the video rooms and dugout. Those lines will be monitored to “prevent their use for sign-stealing.”

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