How bigger bases, pitch clock affected Cubs’ Opening Day win vs. Brewers

The game lasted just two hours and 21 minutes. Marcus Stroman became the first Cub to commit a clock violation. Infielders abided by the shift limits. And the Cubs’ fourth run scored with a little help from the bigger bases.

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Wrigley Field was outfitted with pitch clocks over the offseason. Rule changes, including limits on the time between pitches, went into effect this year.

Wrigley Field was outfitted with pitch clocks over the offseason. Rule changes, including limits on the time between pitches, went into effect this year.

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The safe call at second base in the third inning came down to centimeters. Cubs designated hitter Trey Mancini’s toe touched the bag a split second ahead of Brewers shortstop Willy Adames.

“He’s probably out with the old bases,” said second baseman Nico Hoerner, who helped ignite the Cubs’ rally in their 4-0 Opening Day win. “That’s kind of wild to think about.”

The changes implemented by Major League Baseball were used for the first time Thursday at Wrigley Field, where the game lasted just 2 hours, 21 minutes with a pitch clock in place (starter Marcus Stroman became the first Cub to commit a clock violation). Infielders abided by new shift limits. And the larger bases — 3 inches wider than before — allowed the Cubs’ fourth run to score.

They had runners on first and third with two outs when Yan Gomes chopped a grounder up the middle. Adames fielded it next to second, but instead of flipping it to the bag, he took two steps to get there himself. If he’d touched the base first, the inning would have been over. But Mancini beat him on a slide.

“It’s just a little difference, but over the course of 162 [games], every little difference makes a big difference,” Hoerner said. “So if we are able to take extra bases, especially early in the year when the slug is going to be down at Wrigley usually, those things do matter a lot. And we’ve got a pretty athletic group that can take advantage of that.”

The 2023 changes also drew focus in the top half of the inning when the pitch clock hit zero with Stroman on the mound. Stroman, who pitched for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, didn’t have as much time as his rotation mates to get used to the clock in spring training. But it didn’t seem to throw him off much.

“If they’re going to make us rush, then I’m going to find a way to be me out there no matter what,” he said in late February after his first Cactus League start. “So [it’s] something that I truly don’t even worry about.”

Stroman is still shaking up the timing of his delivery to take advantage of the pitch clock. In general, he works quickly on the mound, but the stakes in a regular-season game are higher than they are during spring training.

“I’m also someone who’s able to step off the mound and breathe when I need to,” he said. “And I don’t have the opportunity to do that anymore. I think breathing is very important to aligning the body and putting yourself in a perfect position to deliver the ball to the plate. And it’s messing up a lot of guys’ pre-pitch routines, which can ultimately affect how they pitch, as well.”

Thanks to an uncharacteristic throwing error by Hoerner, Brewers star Christian Yelich stepped up to the plate with no outs in the third and a runner on second. Stroman worked ahead in the count, 1-2, before being called for the clock violation, which penalized him with an automatic ball. He ended up walking Yelich.

“It’s tough, this pitch clock,” Stroman said. “It’s a big adjustment. I don’t think people really realize it just adds a whole ’nother layer of thinking. You’ve got to be conscious of the clock. You’ve got to look at the clock. You’re trying to worry about the pitch. You’re trying to worry about the guys on base. You’re trying to worry about your grip.”

Stroman got himself out of the jam and finished with six scoreless innings and eight strikeouts. He

also walked three batters — something he did only twice last season.

In the end, the changes achieved what they were supposed to: promote action and cut down on dead air.

“We would just be finishing up the game normally right now,” Hoerner said around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, almost an hour after the game. “I think it’ll be a positive. Obviously, there’s some adjustments within it.”

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