Three-batter-minimum requirement for pitchers goes into effect Thursday

First-year Cubs manager David Ross has talked with bench coach Andy Green about how to best operate under the new rule.

SHARE Three-batter-minimum requirement for pitchers goes into effect Thursday
If closer Craig Kimbrel has the bounce-back season the Cubs are counting on, the team might be at an advantage over some others with the new rule.

If closer Craig Kimbrel has the bounce-back season the Cubs are counting on, the team might be at an advantage over some others with the new rule.

John Antonoff/Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Baseball will change for managers and pitchers Thursday, when the three-batter minimum requirement goes into effect for spring-training games.

First-year Cubs manager David Ross has talked with bench coach Andy Green — the former Padres manager — about how to best operate under the new rule. And he expects the club’s stat guys to provide input for the season.

But until then?

“The main thing for me is you’re going to have those pockets in the lineup where you really don’t like a matchup, and inevitably somebody’s going to walk somebody, and you don’t like the matchup behind [that batter],” Ross said, “and now you’re really going to have to put your neck on the line and figure out if you feel like your pitcher can find his rhythm and throw strikes or if you want to walk a guy and put more baserunners on.

“The good thing for me is it’s new. Some managers are adjusting to that, but it’s all going to be fresh and new to me. How we work through it, time will tell.”

One perceived flaw in the logic of the rule is that it does not exempt the ninth inning, where teams without true closers often use matchup strategies to preserve leads.

If closer Craig Kimbrel has the bounce-back season the Cubs are counting on after struggling in his half-season with the club last year, that could be an advantage over some other teams with the new rule.

“It’s not a guy you’re going to be sitting on pins and needles [with] if he’s first-and-second, one out,” Ross said of having the closer with a track record.

It’s no coincidence that bullpen additions with big-league experience such as Dan Winkler and Ryan Tepera have had success against right-handers and left-handers in their careers (Tepera holding hitters to identical .220 averages from either side of the plate). And former All-Star Jeremy Jeffress is another addition who can be trusted against any left-right sequence.

“That’s extremely important,” Ross said. “And those guys that can go multiple innings down there is also something you start to weigh.”

Among other things, the new rule would seem to mitigate the short-term loss of the second lefty in the bullpen when the season starts as Brad Wieck continues building up after his procedure early in camp to correct a heart arrhythmia.

The bottom line, Ross surmised, is that “even more so now, the trust has to extend a little bit more. The strategy’s going to come in making the decision because after that, it’s going to be out of your hands [for three batters]. So the real conviction is making the decision and staying with it.”

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