MLB’s bigger bases could lead to more steals, fewer injuries

2020 MLB season preview
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PEORIA, Ariz. – Like a violin virtuoso using a new music stand, San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado noticed a difference right away.

Not only are the bases bigger, but they feel different, too.

“It’s definitely different, for sure,” said Machado, a two-time Gold Glove winner. “They look better. I just got to kind of keep playing with it and stepping on it and kind of like getting the feel for it. But it’s definitely different for sure.”

The bigger bases – going from 15- to 18-inch squares – are part of a flurry of changes by Major League Baseball designed to put more action and athleticism back in the game and make it more appealing to a younger generation of potential fans.

When the new rules were adopted by baseball’s 11-person competition committee in September, the four players on the panel supported the bigger bases and voted against the use of a pitch clock and limits on defensive shifts.

The new bases – “They look like a pizza box,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora cracked – cut down the distance between the bases by 4 1/2 inches. The distance between third and home and home and first was trimmed by 3 inches.

It doesn’t sound like much, but the impact could be considerable.

Instead of waiting around for a three-run homer, big league teams could try a more aggressive approach on the basepaths. Coupled with new limits on what MLB calls disengagements – pickoff attempts or steps off the rubber – it’s more important than ever that pitchers are quick to the plate and strong-armed catchers stay alert with runners on.

“The run game, preventing the run game, is something that we’ve talked about, we’re going to continue to talk about, because … the stolen-base attempt should increase a good bit, I think,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Major league teams finished with 2,486 steals in 3,297 attempts last year, up from 2,214 steals and 2,926 attempts in 2021, according to Sportradar, but much lower than 3,229 steals and 4,365 attempts a decade ago in 2012.

In testing in the minors, two Triple-A leagues used the bigger bases for half of the 2021 season. One experienced a 2.2% increase in successful steals, and the other posted 0.7% increase.

The 2012 season – when Mike Trout led the majors with 49 stolen bases – was the last time the big leagues surpassed 3,000 steals and 4,000 attempts.

“I’ve definitely been thrown out by less than (4 1/2) inches … so maybe that starts factoring into results,” said Chicago Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner, who swiped a career-best 20 bases in 22 attempts last year.

Of course, it also gives the majors’ top defensive first basemen an even better chance of keeping runners off base altogether.

“I think it could help. It’ll give me another inch or so of reach on a throw that wants to pull me off the base,” said Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker, who won his first Gold Glove last year.

Besides the activity on the basepaths, Major League Baseball is hoping the change will help reduce injuries. While testing the bigger bases in the minors, there was a 13% decline in what the league calls “injury events near the bases” from 2021 to 2022.

There’s more room for first basemen to avoid getting stepped on, or to pull their arm away in time to avoid a batter hustling up the line. It also should help avoid collisions all over the diamond.

“When you walk on the field, you don’t really notice it, and getting closer to the bag, you definitely do notice it,” said Cubs first baseman Eric Hosmer, a four-time Gold Glove winner. “It seems like a little flatter, too, as well. Not only bigger and longer, but definitely a little flatter.

“But yeah, I think it’s going to prevent some injuries, so I think anytime you can even knock that number down one or two guys, that’s well worth it.”

Rutschman has five hits in opener, Orioles outlast Red Sox 10-9

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BOSTON – The last time Adley Rutschman recalls feeling this level of emotion on a baseball field was playing in front of intimate, 5,000-seat crowds in college at Oregon State.

He trumped that experience at Fenway Park on Thursday in his first career opening day start.

“This blows that out of the water,” Rutschman said.

Rutschman became the first catcher in major league history with five hits in an opener, and the Baltimore Orioles survived a wild ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox 10-9.

“To have that close game in the ninth inning and the crowd get so loud. You kind of sit there and say, ‘This is pretty cool,’” said Rutschman, the top overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Rutschman – who debuted for the Orioles last May and quickly became indispensable to the young, resurgent club – homered in his first at-bat and finished 5-for-5 with a career-best four RBIs and a walk on a chilly day at Fenway Park, with a temperature of 38 degrees at first pitch.

Ramon Urias hit a two-run homer for Baltimore, which finished with 15 hits, nine walks and five stolen bases.

Kyle Gibson (1-0) allowed four runs and six hits over five-plus innings to earn his first opening-day victory since his 2021 All-Star season with Texas. Gibson gave up an RBI groundout in the first inning before retiring nine straight Red Sox hitters.

The Orioles nearly gave the game away in the ninth.

With Baltimore leading 10-7, closer Félix Bautista walked pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia. Alex Verdugo followed with a single and advanced to second on an error by center fielder Cedric Mullins.

Rafael Devers struck out. Justin Turner then reached on an infield single to third when Urias’ throw was wide, scoring Tapia. Masataka Yoshida grounded to shortstop Jorge Mateo, who stepped on second for the force but threw wildly to first, allowing Verdugo to score.

Bautista struck out Adam Duvall on three pitches to end it and earn the save.

The Orioles scored four runs in the fourth and three in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead. Baltimore led 10-4 before Bryan Baker allowed three runs in the eighth to give the Red Sox some hope.

The eighth could have been even better for the Red Sox had Devers, who led off the inning, not become the first player in major league history to strike out on a pitch clock violation. Devers was looking down and kicking debris off his cleats when umpire Lance Barksdale signaled a violation that resulted in strike three.

“There’s no excuse,” said Alex Cora, who dropped to 0-5 in opening-day games as Boston’s manager. “They know the rules.”

Boston offseason addition and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (0-1) struggled in his Fenway debut, surrendering five runs on six hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings.

“Less than ideal,” Kluber said. “Didn’t turn out the way I would have hoped for.”


Red Sox: Christian Arroyo stayed in the game after taking an inadvertent cleat to the side of his head in the second inning. Arroyo was applying a tag to Rutschman at second base as he attempted to stretch out a single. Rutschman’s leg flipped over as he slid awkwardly. … LHP James Paxton was placed on the 15-day inured list (retroactive to March 27) with a strained right hamstring.


Rutschman, one of six Baltimore players making his first opening-day appearance, became the youngest Oriole to homer in his first opening-day at-bat since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1984.


The Orioles took advantage of MLB’s bigger bases – going from 15- to 18-inch squares – that are being used for the first time this season. Baltimore hadn’t stolen five bases in a game since last June 24 against the White Sox. Mullins and Jorge Mateo swiped two bags apiece, and Adam Frazier got a huge jump on his steal against reliever Ryan Brasier. There was nothing Boston catcher Reese McGuire could do to stop them and on the majority of Baltimore’s steals, he didn’t bother to throw.


Right-hander Kaleb Ort and Tapia earned Boston’s final two roster spots to open the season. Tapia got the nod over Jarren Duran, who was sent down to Triple-A Worcester. Ort pitched a scoreless sixth with one strikeout Thursday.


Orioles: RHP Dean Kremer will make is sixth career start against Boston when the three-game series resumes on Saturday. In 11 road starts last season, he went 5-3 with a 3.63 ERA.

Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale, who has pitched in only 11 games over the past three years due to injuries, is set to begin his seventh season in Boston.