Noah Syndergaard, Mets Top Braves 6-0 in 2017 Opener
By The Associated Press
|NEW YORK --- Noah Syndergaard was off to a blistering start, and that could be a concern for the New York Mets. The hard-throwing ace pitched six sharp innings before leaving with a blister.
Asdrubal Cabrera singled home the go-ahead run in the seventh inning and the Mets broke through following a pivotal replay reversal to beat the Atlanta Braves 6-0 in their 2017 season opener on Monday, April 3.
Syndergaard, pictured here, struck out seven without a walk in his first opening day assignment, the only blemish a blister on the top of his right middle finger that ended his outing.
"It was just affecting me on all pitches," Syndergaard said. "I haven't had it in a long time. I had it when I was going through the minor leagues with the Blue Jays, but kind of a rare occurrence."
Atlanta starter Julio Teheran throttled the Mets as usual, throwing six scoreless innings before a sellout crowd of 44,384 at Citi Field. But once he was lifted after 96 pitches, New York took advantage of five walks by a shaky Braves bullpen in a six-run bottom of the seventh that lasted 35 minutes.
Curtis Granderson had a sacrifice fly and Lucas Duda added a three-run double off ineffective lefty Eric O'Flaherty.
The Mets stopped a six-game home losing streak against Atlanta. The last-place Braves swept their final two series in Queens last year, and improved baseball's best record on opening day to 36-20.
Rene Rivera began the seventh with a single against Ian Krol (0-1). One out later, Jose Reyes walked and Cabrera singled for his third hit. Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte made a strong peg home, and Wilmer Flores initially was called out.
But replays showed catcher Tyler Flowers was in a poor position when he took the throw behind the plate, allowing Flores to touch the front corner with his foot before getting tagged.
"Great slide," Duda said.
From there, the Mets stayed disciplined in the batter's box and built a comfortable lead.
"Yeah, we kind of have a big momentum shift right there and probably turned the game around," said Braves manager Brian Snitker. Hansel Robles (1-0) worked a perfect inning for the win.
Freddie Freeman had three hits for Atlanta, including a one-out triple in the fourth inning. Syndergaard struck out the other three batters in the inning, and pitched out of trouble against the middle of the lineup in the sixth.
"That's the reason why he's starting opening day," Freeman said. "He's one of the best pitchers in the game and he worked his way out of it." With fans still filing in, Braves pitcher Bartolo Colon received a standing ovation during pregame introductions as he waved and tipped his cap to the crowd. Big Sexy, who turns 44 in May, won 44 games for the Mets over the last three seasons. He signed a $12.5 million, one-year contract with Atlanta in November. "Bartolo had a huge effect on this team," Collins said.
In his first big league opening day outside Cincinnati, Mets right fielder Jay Bruce drew three walks on his 30th birthday, one with the bases loaded. "It was great. I was nervous, and that was an awesome feeling. I like being a little nervous," Bruce said.
Syndergaard became the seventh different Mets pitcher to start on opening day over the past seven years, the longest streak in club history. Teheran joined Rick Mahler (1985-88) and Greg Maddux (1993-96) as the lone Atlanta pitchers to start four straight season openers. Felix Hernandez (Mariners) and Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) are the only major league pitchers who have longer streaks with their current teams.
Photograph by The Associated Press Photo
AL Champion Indians Rally in 9th, Win Opener 8-5 at Texas
By Stephen Hawkins, Associated Press Sports Writer
|ARLINGTON, Texas --- Abraham Almonte hit a tiebreaking single in a three-run ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians opened their American League title defense by rallying for an 8-5 win over the Texas Rangers on Monday night, April 3.
Making his first opening-day start for Texas, Yu Darvish had a 5-1 lead behind Rougned Odor, who homered twice and drove in four runs in his first two at-bats since signing a new contract a week ago that the Rangers sealed with two horses.
Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland's new slugger, tied the score 5-5 with an eighth-inning homer off Matt Bush, and the Indians went ahead against Sam Dyson, who had 38 saves last season. Almonte is pictured here hitting his 3-run single in the ninth inning.
Andrew Miller (1-0) struck out two in a perfect eighth inning, and Cody Allen got the save by striking out the side around Elvis Andrus' triple.
Jose Ramirez also homered for Cleveland. Tyler Naquin's leadoff single began the ninth-inning rally. Yandy Diaz sacrificed and Almonte singled. Carlos Santana added an RBI double and scored on Michael Brantley's single.
Indians starter Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner, made his third consecutive opening day start and gave up three homers and five runs over six innings.
Darvish, entering the final season of his six-year deal, allowed four runs while walking four and throwing two wild pitches over 6 1/3 innings.
Odor got a $49.5 million, six-year deal the week before that included a pair of horses. The feisty second baseman, who hit 33 homers last season, is only 23 years old and already is in his fourth season with the Rangers.
Carlos Gomez's 461-foot home run put the Rangers ahead 2-1.
Michael Brantley, the Indians left-fielder, went 1 for 5. He was limited to 11 games last season following right shoulder surgery and another procedure to repair a biceps problem.
Adrian Beltre, the Rangers' veteran third baseman in his 20th season with only 58 hits shy of 3,000, missed opening day for only the second time. He was on the 10-day disabled list with right calf tightness.
Photograph by LM Otero, The Associated Press
Are More Home Runs Coming to MLB in 2017?
By Bob Klapisch, Columnist, USA TODAY.Com
|What if everyone in baseball is still juicing? It's a (mostly) crazy thought, given how aggressively the sport polices itself these days. By looks alone, we're well past the steroid era, when hitters ballooned up to NFL lineman size. The game values speed and athleticism more than ever, so why would PEDs still come up in conversation with executives?
It's because home runs spiked historically in 2016 for no obvious reason. Better, harder-to-detect chemicals are just one possibility, as is a more tightly wound baseball. Or it could be the full bloom of the swing-for-the-planets culture that's willing to trade strikeouts for a 400-foot monster blast.
The result satisfied purists on both sides of the ball. If you love power pitching, the summer of '16 was pure bliss --- MLB set a record for strikeouts for the 11th straight year. Yet there's been a concurrent explosion in home runs, which are up 34 percent since 2014. Pictured here is Mark Trumbo of the Baltimore Orioles who hit 47 home runs during the 2016 major league season.
The all-or-nothing approach delivers its share of drama, the war between pitchers and sluggers has never been more intense, especially with the growth of the 100-mph fastball. But it also results in longer games --- extended at-bats, more trips to the mound, endless pitching changes. Everyone, including commissioner Rob Manfred, concedes baseball must quicken its pace.
Yet even if some of the more radical proposals are ever enacted --- like a pitch clock or fewer mound visits --- the surge in home runs remains a mystery. That is, unless you're cynical enough to believe PEDs are still rampant.
One major league executive said late last season, "Every time I hear about some kid getting caught (juicing), I think, 'There's plenty of guys who are getting away with it.' Do I know for sure? No. But nothing would surprise me."
Such talk is a dagger to the heart at MLB headquarters, where the strongest-ever anti-PED initiatives were hatched in 2014. It's not just the penalties that serve as Manfred's muscle --- 80-game suspension for the first positive test, 162 games for the second, lifetime ban for the third. It's random testing at night at home in hopes of catching cheaters who use fast-acting PEDs after games. The stuff is in and out of the system by the following afternoon, which used to stymie testers.
Today's monitoring, however, is so aggressive one official at the commissioner's office said, "We've made it harder than ever to beat the system." It's not perfect, but MLB is right: Clamping down has come a long way.
But remember this, too: Screening is only designed to catch the last-known chemical. Who knows what else is out there? After all, Alex Rodriguez never tested positive and might have been able to run the table had a disgruntled Biogenesis employee not blown the whistle on supplier Tony Bosch.
Still, even if PEDs are out there, it's hard to believe they're as prevalent as the early 2000s and that so many players are part of this conspiracy. The fact is, the new sluggers aren't your prototypical Home Run poster boys. To the contrary, there were more than 100 hitters who slugged at least 20 homers last year, tying the record set in 2000. Pictured here is Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, one of the game's foremost sluggers.
Otherwise, no one hit 50 HRs last year. Mark Trumbo led the majors with 47, and only two National Leaguers, Chris Carter and Nolan Arenado, hit more than 39. Yet, for the first time in history, more than 3 percent of all plate appearances resulted in a home run in 2016. What gives? To some old-school observers, it's more about mind-set than PEDs. It's the willingness to swing and miss in pursuit of the holy grail, the moon shot.
"When I was a ballplayer --- granted I wasn't much of one --- but in my day if I struck out I'd come back to the dugout thinking, 'I failed. I failed,'" said Buck Showalter. "You just don't see that attitude any more. Guys get paid to hit the ball out of the ballpark. You can only do that by swinging hard."
SNY's Keith Hernandez, who used to pride himself on rarely striking out (he whiffed in only 11.8 percent of his plate appearances), agreed. "This is the worst two-strike hitting I've ever seen," said Hernandez, the former Mets first baseman pictured here. "So many flawed swings --- they're the biggest guess-hitters ever."
To be fair, guessing is part of a hitter's tool kit when he's facing a triple-digit fastball. The only way to catch up to, say, Noah Syndergaard's four-seamer is to start the swing early and hope for the best. And when you do? Start your home run trot, because there's a school of thought that swears the baseballs were altered to benefit hitters last summer.
"One conspiracy theory is that the cork is different," Orioles closer Zach Britton said at the All-Star Game. "I know MLB wanted to get more offense in the game, so you can do that without changing a strike zone or something in general? You can somehow change the cork, maybe."
Rawlings Sporting Goods, which manufactures baseballs in Costa Rica, insists there's been no change in materials or protocol. That includes stitching. Some pitchers believe the seams on the ball were flatter in 2016, which, if true, reduced grip and diminished spin rate. That's a recipe for slower-rolling, easy-to-crush breaking pitches.
Of course, it's possible there's some truth in each of these theories. If the players aren't stronger because of PEDs, it's a fact they work out more intelligently than ever. Nutrition is a similarly refined science. Everyone eats healthier, no one shows up at the park hung over anymore. Can you remember the last player you saw smoking?
And working counts, waiting for that one mistake? Entire rosters are built around players who display such patience. Hopefully, the evolution toward power vs. power means the game is moving forward. We'll take that explanation any day.
Photographs by Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports; Sports Illustrated, si.com; and New York Mets/Pinterest
Baseball Owners Look at Rule Changes to Speed Up the Game
By Steven Wine, The Associated Press
|PALM BEACH, Fla. --- For those rooting for baseball to speed up the game, Commissioner Rob Manfred says: have patience.
Owners and players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement in December, but they're still negotiating innovations designed to improve the pace of play. Owners discussed the issue during two days of meetings that concluded Friday, February 3.
"We did review some rule changes largely related to pace of game that are being discussed with the players' association," said Manfred, pictured here following the meeting. "More to follow when those negotiations are complete."
Manfred has pushed for faster games since he became commissioner two years ago. But the average time of a nine-inning game last season was 3 hours, a 4-minute increase over 2015. One playoff game took more than 4 1/2 hours.
The new CBA, which extends labor peace to 26 years through 2021, addresses issues such as smokeless tobacco and World Series home-field advantage but not on-field rules.
"Given the really serious big economic issues on the table, I think it's unrealistic to think that you're going to get an agreement (regarding pace of play) when you're doing the overall agreement," Manfred said. "As is the usual course in the offseason, we're turning to the playing rule issues now."
Management would like to tighten restrictions on trips to the mound and introduce a pitch clock, which has been used in Triple-A and Double-A the past two seasons. Players generally have resisted such changes, and many say there's no problem with the length of games. Manfred disagrees.
"Pace of play is an issue that 'we' need to be focused on," he said. "The 'we' there is players, owners, umpires, everyone who is invested in this game."
"I don't think there's a magic bullet that is going to come one year to be the solution to pace of play. It's going to be an ongoing effort to make sure our game moves along in a way that is most attractive to our fans."
Miami Marlins president David Samson said Major League Baseball is aware that despite much talk about the need to speed up games in recent years, the problem has gotten worse.
"Pace of game is critical," Samson said. "We know that from our fans ad TV partners. We have to recognize the reality of life today, which is that attention spans are going down and choices are going up. Whatever business you're in, you have to adjust."
Among other issues Manfred discussed following the meetings:
--- Major League Baseball is "monitoring the developments" regarding recent changes in U.S. immigration policy by President Donald Trump, Manfred said: "Obviously our foremost concern is that players that are under contract with our organizations be able to come and go," Manfred said. "As of right now the countries that have been mostly affected are not places where we have players."
--- The new CBA eliminates the provision that gave World Series home-field advantage to the All-Star winner, but Manfred said players will still be motivated to win the All-Star Game. "I am a believer that when our players go out on the field they want to win, whether it's in the All-Star Game or any other game," he said.
--- The quality of players taking part in the World Baseball Classic will be high, Manfred said, even though the event takes place during spring training. "I am pleased with the level of cooperation we've had from the teams," he said.
Photograph by ESPN.com
MLB to Push Forward with Process for Rule Changes
By Janie McCauley, The Associated Press
|PHOENIX --- Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound.
While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract. Pictured here, Manfred answers questions at a news conference on February 21 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Union head Tony Clark said in February he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union --- unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.
Manfred said, "Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA. I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."
Yet, Manfred also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."
While he prefers an agreement, Manfred said, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.
"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."
Clark saw talks differently.
"Unless your definition of 'cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," Clark wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."
Clark, pictured here answering a question at a news conference on February 19, added: "My understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."
Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.
"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."
MLB has studies whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level --- at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play --- they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.
Mike McCarthy of the Portland Sea Dogs is pictured here preparing to pitch as the clock winds down at Hadlock Field. Eastern League umpires began penalizing batters and pitchers for pace-of-play violations, with batters being issued strikes and pitchers having balls added to the count.
Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement, such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.
"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," said Royals manager Ned Yost. Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."
Manfred also said that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."
"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum and AP Sports Writer Bob Baum contributed to this report.
In Testing Drastic New Extra-innings Rule, MLB Grapples with Pace, Tradition
By Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY Sports
The purists are reaching out for their pitchforks.
The notion of starting an inning with a runner on second base is as repugnant to diehard baseball fans as adding a clock to the game, which also happens to be on the table.
These are just two of the possible changes under discussion as baseball seeks to address its ongoing issues with pace of play and length of games. Commissioner Rob Manfred has made the topic a central part of his two-year-old tenure, and for good reason.
Several studies have shown baseball's audience skews older, with the average age of its TV viewers over 50. MLB officials reason that to attract younger fans in the digital age, the game needs to provide more action and fewer lulls.
But achieving that without alienating the core of the fan base -- those mature folks who represent a sizeable percentage of the 73.2 million in attendance last year -- represents a huge challenge, especially considering MLB can't implement changes in the big leagues without consulting first with the players union.
The latest and most drastic alteration, as reported by Yahoo Sports, comes in the form of a rule that will be tested this summer in two rookie-level leagues, where every extra inning will begin with a runner on second. This spring's World Baseball Classic will employ that same rule, but starting in the 11th inning.
There would be some clear benefits to this artificial way of generating offense, chief among them the quicker ending of games that go past regulation, thereby saving pitchers' arms and reducing the added stress on players already taxed by a grueling season.
"Let's see what it looks like," Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre, now MLB's Chief Baseball Officer, told Yahoo Sports. "It's not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch."
"It's baseball," said Torre. "I'm just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch."
The irony here, of course, if that baseball's TV ratings typically pick up when games go into extra innings, both in the regular season and playoffs.
Regardless, there are valid reasons for MLB to explore ways to keep the games moving. After trimming six minutes of idle time following the implementation of pace-of-game rules in 2015, baseball regressed again last season, going from an average time of 2:56:15 to 3.00.42.
The difference wasn't huge, but it went in the wrong direction. And playoff games -- which have longer commercial breaks -- lasted 24 minutes more on the average than regular-season ones.
There has been no scarcity of suggestions for how to speed up games, from limiting mound visits to doing away with warm-up pitches for incoming relievers. Current proposals include faster replay review, intentional walks with no pitches thrown and raising the lower part of the strike zone, which in theory would lead to fewer strikeouts and more balls put in play.
Manfred has acknowledged that last proposal may be at odds with the desire to shorten the time of games, but it's likely to increase the action.
He's also a strong proponent of implementing a pitch clock, as was done two years ago at the Class AA and AAA levels, resulting in games lasting 12 fewer minutes, down to 2.42. In the International League, time of games shrank by 16 minutes.
But at the big league level, those kind of modifications would have to be approved by the players association, which takes a very cautious approach to any changes that might impact work conditions.
Union executive director Tony Clark, who played 15 years in the majors, has pointed out that what works in the minors doesn't necessarily translate to the game's highest level, where the stakes are higher and the scrutiny much more intense.
The topic of pitch clocks, for example, has been a non-starter with the union, and the idea of raising the strike zone is likely to result in a split vote between pitchers (against) and position players (in favor), although more will be known when players are canvassed in the spring.
So, except for perhaps quicker replay reviews, don't expect any immediate changes in a game that has long moved at a languid pace. That may not please those hoping baseball will get going, but it should at least keep the pitchforks in the shed.
Photograph by Elaine Thompson, The Associated Press
Tinker With Extra-Inning Rules? Cue the Purists' Outrage
By Victor Mather, The New York Times
It's a tie game after nine innings, folks, and we're heading to the top of the 10th. First man up is Mike Trout, and, as always, there's a man on second.
In an effort to shorten extra-inning games, baseball plans to experiment this summer with giving teams a runner on second at the start of every inning from the 10th, Yahoo Sports reported. The trial will take place in two rookie leagues, and the rule will also be used this spring in the World Baseball Classic. Should the rule prove popular and effective, it could someday move to the major leagues.
Putting a runner on second for extra innings has been used in some softball leagues, including in international play. Typically, the runner is whoever made the last out in the previous inning. But the rule would be a sharp departure for baseball, which tends to change only incrementally and slowly.
Baseball purists, and there are many of them, were predictably outraged, while others saw an opportunity for mirth.
The change should be effective in increasing scoring in extra innings. Statisticians have shown that teams score about half a run per inning. But when there's a runner on second and no one out, that increases to 1.1 runs. In all, teams score in about 27 percent of innings, but they do so 61 percent of the time when there's a runner on second and no one out.
"Let's see what it looks like," Joe Torre, the majors' chief baseball officer, told Yahoo. "It's not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it's nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time."
Speeding up the pace of play has been a preoccupation of baseball in recent years as games have crept longer and longer. A nine-inning playoff game between the Dodgers and the Nationals lasted 4 hours, 32 minutes last fall. Baseball has tinkered with rules about leaving the batter's box and has also been experimenting with time limits on pitchers in the minor leagues.
Still, extra-inning games are not always the cause. About 8 percent of games go into extra innings, and most of those do not stretch deep into the night. Last season, 43 percent of extra-inning games were over after the 10th, and only 16 percent of them went 13 or more. The 18-inning games that Torre spoke of are even rarer. Of 12,147 regular season games over the last five seasons, only 22 went 18 or more.
Traditionally, overtimes in sports have had the same rules as regulation time. But in 2015, the National Hockey League started playing overtime with three skaters on a side instead of five, and college football has for two decades started teams close to the end zone for overtime play.
There may be unintended consequences from baseball's new experiment. Strategically, with a man on second and no one out, some managers may be tempted to have their first hitter bunt, then hope for a sacrifice fly. More bunting may not be what baseball had in mind for the new rule.
Joe Ward contributed reporting. Photograph by Ted S. Warren, The Associated Press
MLB Owners, Players Ratify Labor Deal Through 2021
By Ronald Blum, The Associated Press
|NEW YORK --- Baseball owners and players have ratified the sport's new five-year collective bargaining agreement, extending their labor peace to 26 years through 2021.
The sides announced their approvals on December 14, a day after holding votes in separate telephone meetings.
"This agreement allows us to build on the positive momentum from last season and promote a generation of young players," said Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement.
After eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the sides have negotiated deals without a strike or lockout in 2002, 2006, 2011 and this year. The new deal expires December 1, 2021.
Teams voted 29-1 to approve, and Tampa Bay Rays managing general partner Stuart Sternberg was the lone dissenting vote, a person familiar with that meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the vote breakdown was not announced. While Sternberg declined to comment on the vote, he did express his views on the deal.
The union said its executive board unanimously ratified the Basic Agreement, Benefit Plan Agreement, Joint Drug Agreement and Joint Policy on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse.
Former All-Star first baseman Tony Clark led the union's negotiations for the first time. He took over as executive director following the death of Michael Weiner in November 2013.
"The players' involvement during negotiations was both essential and unprecedented, and today's unanimous vote was the culmination of those efforts," Clark said in a statement. "This was a team effort from beginning to end."
Negotiators reached an agreement November 30 in Irving, Texas, about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the previous contract.
The deal raises the luxury tax thresholds, increases some of the tax rates, imposes a hard cap on signing bonuses for international amateurs and bans smokeless tobacco for players who do not already have a major league service.
It also eliminates the provision that gave World Series home-field advantage to the All-Star winner and bans rookie hazing that includes costumes as women.
Photograph by The Associated Press/Crowding the Plate
Intentional Walks Without Pitches Coming
By Tyler Kepner, The New York Times
|MESA, Ariz. --- As Major League Baseball seeks to speed up games, one item on its wish list is expected to be in place this 2017 season after all. Managers can now signal from the dugout for an intentional walk without the pitcher needing to throw the pitches.
Commissioner Rob Manfred had expressed frustration over the players' union's refusal to accept changes to quicken the pace of games, reminding reporters that he could unilaterally impose such changes in 2018. Baseball would still like to add a pitch clock, raise the strike zone and limit mound visits, and it views the intentional walk rule as mostly a symbolic gesture.
Teams issued 932 intentional walks last season, or roughly one every two and a half games. While oddities have occurred during intentional walks --- such as hits, wild pitches and the fake-intentional-walk-turned-strikeout in the 1972 World Series --- the practice is generally considered tedious. The Nationals' Bryce Harper is pictured here being intentionally walked.
"It will be a new normal in a relatively short period of time," said Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon. "Right now it's going to elicit a lot of discussion, and I get it. But to me that's one of those things I wouldn't really want to battle about, because I don't think it's that significant."
Wade Davis, the Cubs' closer, said he was fine with the change.
"It's like a decrease in athletic movement when you ask somebody to throw the ball slower to the catcher four times," Davis said. "It's not like an entertaining part when someone is throwing pitchouts --- except when they throw it away, then it's entertaining to some people."
Davis added: "I've played with guys that couldn't do it, so they move the catcher two feet off the dish and they just pump strikes off home plate. So they're still doing it, but in that case you're wasting a pitcher's bullets. As a team, you'd probably rather have your guy not focusing on throwing balls."
The Yankees' Gary Sanchez hit a sacrifice fly last season during an intentional-walk attempt, and Miguel Cabrera hit a run-scoring single in the same situation for the Marlins in 2006.
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, who was Cabrera's manager in 2006, told reporters in Tampa, Florida, that he had no problem with the rule, because it would not affect strategy and would simply move the game along.
"Yes, there's rare chance that it could lead to something big for you and your club," said Girardi. "But there's also the thought process. You don't like to get pitchers out of their rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm." Billy Witz contributed in the reporting.
Photograph by Alex Brandon, The Associated Press
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