JUPITER, Fla. — There’s a lot that Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara likes about Major League Baseball’s new rules, such as the limitation on infield shifts.
“Last year I got so mad sometimes because they move the position player and the ball was right there,” the NL Cy Young Award winner said.
One of the biggest ways the sport is addressing its slowly moving product is the introduction of a pitch clock. Pitchers now get 15 seconds between deliveries if there’s no runner on base, 20 seconds if someone is aboard. And it’s 30 seconds to resume play between batters.
The pitch clock will take some getting used to, Alcantara said, though he’s not too worried about the adjustment because he’s used to working pretty quickly. But working with the new pitch timer in spring training has taken more energy out of him than he expected.
“Especially when it’s hot like today,” Alcantara said after pitching two innings against the New York Mets in Jupiter, Florida, where temperatures were in the upper 80s. “I mean, I was trying to take my time because I was getting tired when I throw pitch by pitch by pitch.”
That’s an early adjustment that many pitchers are grappling with. Most have been pleased with the faster pace of play, which has dropped from 3 hours, 1 minute last spring to 2:39. The Mets beat the Marlins 8-4 in 2:37.
But with less time between innings and pitches, players have expressed worries about rushing, as some are getting winded from running back and forth after certain plays.
“Kind of tough to get your breath after backing up third base and you know you only have 25, 30 seconds to get back on the mound,” Miami left-hander Jesús Luzardo said.
After about a week of spring training, pitch clock violations are being called at a rate of 1.63 per game.
Already, it’s become a new sign of the times in baseball – an umpire pointing to his wrist, indicating a pitcher dawdled too long.
Mets ace Max Scherzer, who is eagerly testing the range of what’s allowed, was called for a balk after going too quickly. New York Yankees reliever Wandy Peralta, meanwhile, recorded a three-pitch strikeout in a lightning-fast 20 seconds.
Marlins manager Skip Schumaker likened the new pace to conditioning in the weight room.
“You lift the most weight when you have a little bit of rest,” he said. “If you’re maxing out, you’re waiting a couple of minutes before your next rep. If you’re not conditioned, that next rep isn’t as good as the first rep. That goes with pitching, too. How sharp are you going to be if you’re not conditioned?
“Going behind home plate, backing up third, sprinting to first, all that is real. How about covering first base in St. Louis in July when it’s 110 degrees and it’s the sixth inning and you’re 85 pitches in?”
As for other instances when pitchers could be winded, Schumaker said it could come into play when relievers enter from the bullpen.
“Colorado is my concern,” he said. “It’s at altitude and it’s in right-center-field, and when you’re running in from there, you’re pretty tired. I wonder what that looks like.”
Miami reliever Matt Barnes wondered if the shorter time between innings will tempt pitchers to throw fewer warmup pitches.
“Say you’ve got a long run in in Chicago. It’s April 15 and it’s 30 degrees out, and you get out there,” Barnes said. “Are they going to say you have one more (warmup pitch) or you’re going to throw a ball, and you only get four pitches, and now you’re risking injury?”
Arizona left-hander Joe Mantiply was assessed an automatic ball in a game against the Cubs because he didn’t finish his warmup pitches quickly enough after entering as a reliever.
“We’re trying to train for it,” Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “Everything that we’re doing off the mound we are doing with a clock. So, bullpens, lives (live batting practice), obviously the games, we’re going to make sure that these guys get used to pitching at the pace in which they’re going to have to pitch.”
Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks said he could see pitchers becoming winded in certain situations.
“When I ran in last year from the bullpen – that’s pretty far – and I’d throw all my (warmup) pitches, I’d be out of breath without the pitch clock.”
Known for his blazing fastball, Hicks said he has thought about ways of slowing things down this season.
One option, he said, is to back away and use one of his step-offs to catch his breath. Under the new rules, pitchers can disengage from the rubber – either to call timeout or to attempt a pickoff throw – twice per plate appearance.
“You could walk around the grass and grab the rosin. I’m sure if it gets too deliberate, where they say, ‘Oh, you’re avoiding the rules,’ then they’ll probably say something. But if you’re quick about, that’s an extra three seconds right there.”