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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Limiting mound visits has altered pitcher-catcher communication

Unexpected pitches can be a danger to catchers, and game times have yet to be reduced by the move.

Dellin Betances and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees

Dellin Betances and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees talk on the mound during the ninth inning against the Astros in Game 3 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 16, 2017. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

In the end, baseball’s new mound visit restrictions likely will have a negligible effect on pace of play and total game time.

But the new rules, which limit teams to six mound visits (with exceptions) per nine innings, already are having an unintended effect: With catchers less willing to go out to discuss signs and burn a visit, pitchers are throwing pitches their catchers might not be expecting.

One instance this past week led to CC Sabathia throwing a pitch that Gary Sanchez wasn’t expecting, which led to a run-scoring passed ball.

“One thousand percent right there,” Sabathia said. “Should have been a mound visit.”

In a potentially more serious instance, Dellin Betances threw a fastball when Sanchez was expecting a breaking pitch on April 13 in Detroit. Given that Betances’ fastball approaches 100 mph, that cross-up could have led to something worse than a passed ball.

“Thank God they put it in play,” Betances said. “If not, it would have killed Gary.”

Betances might have been exaggerating, but the change in the catcher-pitcher relationship because of the new rules is real. No longer can Sanchez traipse out to the mound whenever he feels the need to discuss signs or give a pep talk.

Commissioner Rob Manfred instituted the rules before this season as part of baseball’s efforts to improve pace of play. Teams are limited to six mound visits by a player, coach or manager, with exceptions for injury visits or taking out a pitcher. Umpires are keeping track of the number of visits, and every Major League Baseball ballpark has a mound-visit tracker on the scoreboard (generally next to where they keep track of replay challenges).

Is it working? In a word, no.

Despite previous efforts, average game time has increased every year since 2015 (3:00) to 2016 (3:04) to 2017 (3:08).

This season, through Friday, the average game time had increased by a minute to 3:09. Is that really worth the chance of Sanchez or another catcher getting skulled by an unexpected fastball?

Betances said the issue in Detroit was that he couldn’t see Sanchez’s signs. Sanchez asked the plate umpire if he could go out and chat with Betances and was told he would be charged with a mound visit. So Sanchez stayed behind the plate, Betances guessed Sanchez had called for a fastball, and Sanchez started to move his glove and body as if a breaking ball were coming.

A breaking ball was not coming.

“It was headed right for his mask,” Betances said.

The new rules could be called the “Gary Sanchez Rule”; Sanchez was well-known for making multiple mound visits to confer with his pitcher.

“It’s definitely an adjustment,” Sanchez said through a translator. “It’s a new rule — not my favorite — but it’s what we have in place now and that’s what we have to work with.”

Sabathia defended Sanchez’s previous penchant for multiple mound visits.

“I think pitchers want catchers to come out more than the catcher wants to come out there,” Sabathia said. “I think when you get into a situation where you get into a long count with a guy, to me, I just want the guy to come out just so you can get on the same page. I think everybody wants to blame it on Gary, but I think it’s the pitchers more so than it is Gary.”

Betances, though, doesn’t sound as if he misses Sanchez’s visits all that much.

“A lot of times you want to be in a rhythm as a pitcher, so the less he goes out there — unless he needs to — I think it’s better that way,” Betances said. “When you’re having trouble seeing signs, then you need him to come out there.”

PLODDING ALONG

Comparing 2018 average game times, through Friday, with the previous five full seasons:

20183:09

20173:08

20163:04

20153:00

20143:07

20133:04

New York Sports