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MLB to test new extra-innings rules, including starting with a runner at second base

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Per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Major League Baseball will test new extra-innings rules in rookie ball this season. One of those rules includes starting extra innings with a runner on second base. That rule is already implemented in the World Baseball Classic, but starting with the 11th inning, as the Chicago Tribune reported.

MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre is in favor of the experimentation. “Let’s just see what it looks like. 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,” Torre said. He continued, “It’s baseball. I’m just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch. It doesn’t mean you’re going to score. You’re just trying to play baseball.”

The proposed change would have some tangible benefits, such as shortening games, reducing the stress of travel after those long games, and limiting abuse of pitchers’ arms.

The minor leagues have been Major League Baseball’s laboratory for rule changes because those alterations don’t need union approval… because there is no union. Both the owners and the players’ union would have to come to an agreement to adopt this proposed extra-innings rule at the major league level, so it seems unlikely that would happen in the very near future.

There were 189 extra-inning games last season out of 2,430 games played, or 7.6 percent. Of those 189 games, 75 lasted 10 innings (40%), 50 lasted 11 innings (26%), 31 lasted 12 innings (16%), 19 lasted 13 innings (10%), and 14 lasted 14 innings or longer (7%). 26 players who are typically position players pitched last season, and only two of those players were brought in during extra innings: Darwin Barney (19th inning on July 1) and Ryan Goins (18th inning also on July 1).

It seems, based on this data, that long extra-innings games — even those involving position players pitching — aren’t really that big of an issue. That being said, reducing the length and amount of extra-inning games in the minors could be very helpful because it will help preserve many young, developing arms and potentially avoid otherwise unnecessary injuries.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.