MLB’s spring training a test run for new rule changes

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Spring training games might be a little ugly this year, particularly during the first few weeks.

For Major League Baseball, that’s a feature, not a bug.

The Grapefruit and Cactus League games in Florida and Arizona over the next month will be used as a petri dish for the sport’s rule changes, including a pitch clock, bigger bases and limits to infield shifts. The idea is that the worst kinks will be worked out before opening day on March 30.

Though there’s multiple innovations, one stands above the rest.

“The pitch timer is – by far – the biggest change that’s coming this season,” said MLB executive vice president Morgan Sword said Tuesday. “Frankly, it’s probably the biggest change that’s been made to baseball in most of our lifetimes.”

The pitch clock has been tested for a few years at the minor league level. Pitchers will have 15 seconds to deliver their pitch with no runners on base and 20 seconds when runners are on base. There will be 30 seconds between batters and 2 minutes, 15 seconds between innings.

MLB games averaged 3 hours, 4 minutes last season following the introduction of the PitchCom electronic device to signal pitches, down from a record 3:10 in 2021. Sword said MLB’s research indicates fans prefer games that are around 2:30.

The pitch clock’s effect on minor league games in 2022 was substantial. Games that used the clock were, on average, 25 minutes shorter than those that did not.

“Fans want a crisper pace,” Sword said.

Sword said umpires will be watching for more balks when runners are on base. Some pitchers – particularly relievers – have funky idiosyncrasies in their deliveries and never come to a complete stop before delievering a pitch. That’s technically a balk, but umpires usually let those tics slide.

A complete stop with no movement becomes more significant because the pitch clock operator turns off the clock once the pitcher’s motion toward the plate begins.

Balks rose to 924 during a 1988 crackdown from 356 the previous year, then declined to 407 in 1989 and 288 in 1990. The total has been under 200 annually since 1989 and was 122 last year.

Sword said many MLB players who spent time in the minors during 2022 grew to appreciate the clock, even though there was an adjustment period. He said most players needed a few weeks to a month to get used to the changes, which is about the length of spring training’s game schedule.

Sword said the rule changes will be “full go” from the first day of spring training. That might lead to some irritated players and awkward moments during late February’s spring training games.

Former big league pitcher Joe Martinez, who is MLB’s vice president for on-field strategy, demonstrated some of the logistics on Tuesday at Talking Stick Field, spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.

He also detailed some of the technology that will be used to make the new pitch clock system happen, including buzzers for umpires, which vibrate when a pitcher has run out of time.

Here are some other updates as MLB camps get going in Florida and Arizona.

— MLB said it’s looking forward to a season without COVID-19 as a main concern. The past three seasons have at least been partially affected by the virus, which shut down spring training during March 2020.

No fans were allowed to attend games during the shortened 2020 regular season and attendance was severely curtailed at many parks through much of 2021, when the average crowd was 18,901. Last year’s average of 26,843 was down 5.3% from 2019’s 28,339.

MLB said it was encouraged by a few trends toward the end of 2022. In September, attendance numbers were the highest they had been since 2014.

“We feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum,” said Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer.

— MLB introduced balanced schedule for its 162-game regular season schedule that focuses less on division rivals and more on making sure all teams play against each other every season.

Teams will play their division rivals 13 times this season as opposed to 19 times under the unbalanced schedule that had been used since 2001. Most of those division games are being shifted to the interleague schedule, which pits teams from the National League against the American League.

“It brings more teams and more players to more markets,” Marinak said.

Yankees score runs in final three innings for 4-1 victory over Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES – Despite battling injuries all season, the New York Yankees are still managing to pick up victories.

With AL MVP Aaron Judge sidelined after injuring his foot on Saturday, the Yankees got strong pitching and were able to use a little bit of small ball to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1 Sunday and take two of three games in the weekend series.

“Just a really good all-around effort. A lot of winning things were happening in that game,” manager Aaron Boone said.

New York plated runs in the seventh and eighth innings on soft-contract grounders before Anthony Volpe provided some insurance with a two-run homer in the ninth.

J.D. Martinez homered for the Dodgers, who dropped the final two games in the series.

Clay Holmes (4-2) pitched one inning to pick up the win, and Wandy Peralta got the last four outs for his fourth save.

It was a pitchers’ duel for six innings between the Yankees’ Domingo Germán and Dodgers’ Bobby Miller. The right-handers matched zeroes as the teams combined for only four hits in the first six innings.

Dodgers’ rookie Miller allowed only one hit in his six innings, becoming the first Dodgers’ pitcher since at least 1901 to allow one hit or fewer within his first three big league starts. The 24-year old right-hander struck out seven and walked two in his third start.

Germán went 6 2/3 innings and allowed one run and four hits, including Martinez’s solo shot to tie it at 1-all in the seventh. The right-hander has limited opponents to one run or fewer in four of his last six starts.

Jake Bauers – who was playing right field in place of Judge – scored the game’s first run in the seventh on Kyle Higashioka‘s broken-bat grounder to short.

Bauers got aboard with a base hit then advanced to third when Brusdar Graterol threw the ball away on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s bunt.

After Martinez’s homer, the Yankees retook the lead in the eighth against Evan Phillips (1-1). Oswaldo Cabrera drove in Anthony Rizzo with the go-ahead run with a slow roller that second baseman Miguel Vargas could only throw to first.

“It not being hit well helps when the fielders have to move a little. That’s what you’re selling out for. Good job by the base runners there,” Boone said.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said both balls could not have been placed any better by the Yankees’ batters.

“I don’t think they had a chance on both balls. The base runners had such a good jump. They were jam shots,” Roberts said. “There were a lot of things we did as far as giving away a couple bases on the defensive side.”

Volpe had two hits after being mired in a 3-for-38 slump his last 11 games. He extended the lead by driving Caleb Ferguson’s fastball over the wall in left-center in the ninth. It was Volpe’s ninth homer, which is second among AL rookies.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence,” said Volpe after the Yankees took four of six on the road trip.


Martinez evened it in the bottom of the inning with a solo shot to left-center. It was his 10th homer in the last 21 games.

Martinez has 20 homers against the Yankees, his third-most against any club. He has 35 against Baltimore and 23 vs. Cleveland. He is four homers away from 300 for his career.


Miller – the 29th overall pick in the 2020 amateur draft – looked like he might have a short outing after throwing 27 pitches in the first inning. He struck out three but also walked two.

Miller retired seven straight between the third and fifth innings before Volpe lined a base hit to center field with two out in the fifth.

“It felt really good. Been working on my slider a lot lately.,” said Miller, who threw 86 pitches, including 39 sliders. “They know I have a good fastball so I have to have my other pitches working as well.”


Yankees: LHP Nestor Cortes is expected to be placed on the injured list Monday or Tuesday due to a shoulder issue. Manager Aaron Boone said Cortes has been slower to recover between starts and is likely to miss one or two starts. … LHP Carlos Rendon (left forearm strain) will face hitters on Wednesday.

Dodgers: OF Trayce Thompson was placed on the injured list with a left oblique strain. OF Johnny Deluca was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City.


Yankees: Return home for six games starting Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox. RHP Clarke Schmidt (2-5, 5.01 ERA) has gone at least five innings in six of his last eight starts.

Dodgers: Hit the road starting Tuesday against Cincinnati. RHP Tony Gonsolin (3-1, 1.77 ERA) has gone 3-0 in his last four starts.