Mets infielder Brett Baty is out at second as Francisco...

Mets infielder Brett Baty is out at second as Francisco Lindor completes a double play during a spring training intrasquad scrimmage game Friday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca


Rob Manfred’s new pitch clock made its highly anticipated Mets debut Friday at Clover Park.

This was just an intrasquad game, a tuneup for Saturday’s Grapefruit League split-squad openers, but there was a considerable amount of intrigue for what amounted to a practice for the five weeks of practice to follow. Most of it centered around how long the Mets would take to play three innings.

The clubhouse over/under was set at 50 minutes, and for anyone involved with this sport during the past two-plus decades, that was a more than manageable number. Considering that last season’s nine-inning average was 3:06, down from 3:11 the previous year, that’s a pace we’d all sign on for.

The verdict? The Mets beat the Mets, 3-0, in a three-inning game that stretched 48 minutes. If my math is correct, that projects to a tidy 2:24 over nine, a number that would have Manfred popping champagne bottles at MLB’s Sixth Avenue headquarters.

This one comes with an asterisk, however, as only 15 outs were recorded. Three of the six half-innings were cut short because of pitch counts, which prompted one snarky bystander to suggest that two-out frames are another part of the commissioner’s master plan to trim more minutes from the national pastime.

As a result, we’ll have to view this data as incomplete. But that didn’t stop us from learning a few things about the clock’s potential consequences, and some glitches that could surface.

First off, making sure the timer runs smoothly is going to require people to stay awake at the control panel. On Friday, there were a few instances when the clock either didn’t start on cue, was set for the wrong countdown (20 seconds when it should have been 15) or was off altogether.

That’s to be expected on Feb. 24. But Buck Showalter wanted Friday’s intrasquad game to be as close to the real thing as possible, and he’s expecting similar bugs in the system throughout spring training and likely into the regular season.

“It’s under the umpires’ discretion,” Showalter said afterward. “If they see something that’s out of whack, you’ve seen basketball referees when the shot clock didn’t start on time, they’ll stop it and reset it. I think the thing is really going to be when someone’s trying to circumvent the rules or try to use them to gain an advantage too much.”

Showalter has to entertain those types of conspiracies because it’s his job to identify such behavior on the part of opposing clubs and then disable those strategies. But the rules aren’t meant to pit the umpires against the teams, either. In speaking with the two umpires after Friday’s game — one from Double-A, the other from Triple-A — they mentioned that the implementation of the pitch clock at those levels involved some collaboration.

To help the hitters adjust, the umpires sometimes would give them a heads-up when the clock was running down (they need to be back in the box, ready for the pitch, with eight seconds remaining). They felt it was better to be proactive in keeping a brisk pace rather than dealing with the fallout from the penalties: angry players and even more furious managers.

The objective here is to tighten up the games, not mess with the outcomes, and the umpiring crew wants to defuse any ticking bombs by reminding the players of the soon-to-be-expiring clock.

“I use their first names,” one umpire said Friday.

To their credit, the Mets didn’t appear to have any issues during their brush with the new rules. The pitchers worked quickly and the hitters pretty much stayed in the batter’s box. If anyone did step out, he was back in a blink, and the difference in the pace of the game was noticeable. It won’t be surprising to see the hitters more rattled by the clock than the guys on the mound are.

“You don’t want to force too many things. A lot of it happens organically,” Showalter said. “When you have a pre-pitch process, you do it with one foot in the box, if you want to swing out there, you can get it done. Just going to have to make some adjustments.”

Showalter did express some concern about the players headed to the World Baseball Classic next week, as the international tournament won’t be using the pitch clock or any of MLB’s new rules. While spring training is the ideal laboratory for these experiments, a big chunk of the Mets’ roster will have their test drive interrupted for potentially three weeks.

“I was thinking last night, should we ask our guys to play by the new rules while they’re there?” Showalter said. “It’s something we’ve talked about.”

He meant keep the same mindset — work quickly, stay in the box — rather than fall back into the old habits, which will be penalized when they return.

It may be a while before we see the tangible impact of these rules, but Friday was a promising start — as dress rehearsals go, anyway.


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