Frank Francisco initially expressed some optimism that he could return from a strained rib cage to pitch at some point in the playoffs, but Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports that the Rangers have all but ruled out the setup man until 2011.
Francisco threw a 20-pitch bullpen session yesterday and reported no problems, but he’s been sidelined since late August and throwing him right back into the fire in a World Series game is unlikely even if he continues to avoid setbacks.
Francisco’s injury played a part in the Rangers’ bullpen implosion in Game 1 of the ALCS, because had he been healthy there’s a pretty good chance manager Ron Washington would have simply turned to Francisco to work the eighth inning instead of playing musical relievers.
After losing ninth-inning duties to Neftali Feliz early on, Francisco rebounded to post a 2.84 ERA, .220 opponents’ batting average, and 57/16 K/BB ratio in 50.2 innings prior to landing on the disabled list. He pitched the eighth inning in 34 of his 56 appearances overall.
On Monday, Major League Baseball announced some changes aimed at improving the game’s pace of play, something that has been a pet cause for commissioner Rob Manfred. Among the changes was a limit on mound visits whether from managers and coaches, the catcher, or other defenders. Each team will have six non-pitching change mound visits per game and one additional visit each inning in extra innings. Craig wrote more in depth on the changes here if you happened to miss it.
Angels catcher Martin Maldonado says he is going to do what’s necessary to stay on the same page with his pitchers. Via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, Maldonado said, “If the game is on the line, I’m going to go out there. If we’re at six [visits], and it’s going to be the seventh, I’m going to go out there, even if I have to pay a fine. I’m there for the pitchers.”
Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said as much on Tuesday. Per Josh Frydman of WGN News, Contreras said, “What about if you have a tight game and you have to go out there? They can’t say anything about that, that’s my team and we just care about wins. If they’re going to fine me about number seven mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”
Exhibition games haven’t even started yet, but two notable backstops — the lesser-known Maldonado won a Gold Glove last year — are clearly not happy with the rule change. As Craig alluded to in his article yesterday, arguments between catchers and umpires (and, subsequently, managers and umpires) are probably going to become more frequent, which would likely end up nullifying any pace of play improvements.
Update (4:43 PM ET): In response to this, Manfred said that if a catcher or coach made a seventh mound visit, there would have to be a pitching change (via Fletcher). However, chief baseball officer Joe Torre said (via SB Nation’s Eric Stephen) that the seventh visit cannot trigger a pitching change. The umpire would simply have to prevent the seventh mound visit.