It was announced on Wednesday that at all levels of minor league baseball, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.
That said, I really hope the extra-inning rule in the minors is not a trial balloon for the big leagues.
The rules are meant to shorten the length of extra-inning games and the number of mound visits throughout a game, keeping in mind player safety and providing more action for viewers.
The biggest change is placing a runner on second base to open each extra inning, which bucks a long-standing baseball tradition. MLB also tested the rule in the recent Arizona Fall League season following implementation in the Arizona Summer, Dominican Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues.
With runners on base, the pitch timer will go from 15 to 20 seconds. At the Triple-A level, it will be just six per game, while at the Double-A level, it will be eight per game. The runner will be the player in the lineup before the leadoff hitter in that inning, though teams will be allowed to substitute in that spot. In Triple-A and Double-A levels, there will be a 15-second pitch clock when there are no runners on base. The runner will be the player who made the final out and pitchers will not be charged an earned run if that runner scores. If a game enters the extra innings, teams will be award one mound visit for every additional inning.
Also new for this season, there will be a limit on mound visits. "Any runner or batter removed from the game for a substitute shall be ineligible to return to the game".
Another initiative to speed the game comes with changes to the pitch clock rules.
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These mound visit limits will apply whether the game is scheduled for seven or nine innings.
Last but not least, we reach the pitch clock - or "pitch timer" as MILB calls it.
The timer will start when the pitcher has possession of the ball on the mound, the catcher is in the catcher's box and the batter is in the dirt circle surrounding home plate.
The clock will remain at 20 seconds when there are runners on base, a rule first implemented in 2015.
If the pitcher does not begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in the allotted time, a ball will be added to the count on the batter. There are no mound visit limits in the short season leagues.
But that won't be fully regulated until after the first 15 days of the season (April 5-19), which minor league baseball plans to use as a grace period, with players receiving warnings for infractions. But if the batter fails to get in the batter's box prior to the 7-second mark, a strike will be awarded.