PEORIA, Ariz. — In the first inning of a spring training game against the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado put his left foot in the batter’s box, tapped his bat at home plate and swung it. was set up. It was a routine he had done countless times.
But in this case, Machado had no time. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney rose from his dugout and pointed to Machado and his left wrist to signal the first pitch clock violation in Major League Baseball history — even if it came in an exhibition game.
There will now be a 30-second clock between batters under a new set of rules to speed up the game and inject more activity. Once an at-bat begins, pitchers have 15 seconds to begin their movement, or 20 seconds if there are runners on base.
However, batters have their own rules. They must be in the batter’s box and watch the pitcher with eight seconds left on the clock. Machado was ready with about six seconds left. So, before he even sees a pitch or swings the bat, he’s already landed a strike.
“That time goes by fast,” Machado said after the 3-2 loss. He later joked, “We’re at least in the record books.”
Spring training is, after all, practice. The 2023 regular season begins March 30, so the next five weeks will be spent not only for pitchers to strengthen their arms and batters to improve their timing, but also for everyone — from umpires to coaches to players — to make some adjustments. Biggest single-season rule changes in sports history.
“It’s definitely going to be an interesting year,” Machado said.
Over the decades, MLB games have grown longer and, for various reasons, had less action. The average game time in 2021 was a record three hours and 11 minutes, for example, in 1976 the average game took two hours and 29 minutes. MLB’s overall batting average last season was .243, the lowest since 1968, according to Baseball Reference. Strikeout rates have skyrocketed in recent years.
So as part of a collective bargaining agreement between MLB’s team owners and its players union before the 2022 season, the two sides agreed to an 11-man panel — which included players but was controlled by MLB — that dealt with the rules changes. The decision for 2023: adding a pitch clock, banning defensive substitutions and increasing the size of the bases.
“The first weeks of spring training are going to be an adjustment period, and our intent is to change behavior as quickly as we can,” said Morgan Wall, who oversaw the rulebook changes as MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations. He, along with other MLB executives, descended on the Peoria Sports Complex in the Phoenix area on Friday to watch one of the first games of this spring training.
They expect the games to be the same as they were in the 1970s and ’80s: more covered bases, more hits, more athleticism on the field.
“I think you’re going to see a game that moves with a lot of momentum,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. “I think you’re going to see more balls in play. I think you’re going to see the field, and you’re going to see the players the way most of us grew up seeing the position. I think they’re going to see a move towards a much better form of our game.
The Mariners and Padres offered glimpses of what might be to come. During his two innings, Padres starting pitcher Nick Martinez, a relatively fast pitcher who takes more time when runners are on base, delivered most pitches with several seconds left on the clock. But in a few the clock ticked dangerously close to zero.
“I had to speed up,” Martinez said after the game. “I thought I wasn’t going to think about it today, and I definitely felt it.” He later added: “I want to slow down the game, it’s going to be interesting. They happen a lot during the season because there’s a lot on the line.
But Martinez said he’s also noticed batters rushing to get into position. With the lead in the game, Mariners second baseman Golden Wong was completely out of the batter’s box, but quickly re-entered and was ready with one second left.
“Guys are going to get a little tired working at this pace, whether it’s the starters or the relievers throwing a lot of pitches,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “There will also be an endurance factor.”
Seattle Mariners starter Robbie Ray said he was ready for the tempo and didn’t feel rushed during his two innings.
“A couple of times, I took my time getting back to the mat and thought, ‘Oh, I better speed it up a little bit,’ and I looked up and I had 11 seconds on the clock,” Ray said. , like Martinez, said the pitch-calling devices used by catchers and pitchers also helped streamline the process.
As the clock was ticking on Machado, Ray said he could hear the umpire telling Machado to hurry up. Machado admitted he was trying to push it time-wise, and Blakney alerted him with two seconds left.
“It gets guys up to speed,” Machado said, then added: “When you hit, you’ve got to get up there and go. You don’t really have the routine you’ve been doing for 10, 11 years.
The new rules are a focal point in baseball everywhere from Arizona to Florida to MLB’s headquarters in New York. Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani — among the slowest pitchers in baseball, especially with runners on the bases — said adjusting to the new pitch clock was his biggest concern entering spring training. To help, the Angels, like many other teams, set clocks on the practice fields. And the rules have a fair amount of subtlety and some potential for strategy.
“If you ask anybody in our camp or anybody around baseball if they’re cutting it back, I’d call BS if everybody’s still up to speed,” San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler said of the rules. He later said of his players, “I see that I’m happy and a lot of questions are being asked.”
During the first innings on Friday, another impact of the new rules became apparent. After Machado’s foul — his only one of the game — he singled. Then Juan Soto, a left-handed hitter, hit a single to the right side of the infield that would have led to an inning-ending double play had it not been for the defensive turnovers. The new rules required two fielders on each side of second base, which allowed more room for Soto’s ball.
“Lefties are going to love it,” said Machado, who raced to third base as a result. “It’s going to be nice to see more offense, and maybe more first-to-third and more runs. But you’re also going to see some good defense.
About 10 miles from Machado, the Kansas City Royals beat the Texas Rangers 6-5. In that game, there were three pitch-clock violations, all by pitchers.
When the Padres threatened in the ninth inning — a mound visit and a pinch-runner added — the game was even better. They loaded the bases, but David Dahl flied out to deep right field for the final out.
Final Time: Two hours and 29 minutes.