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Cubs adjust to MLB rule changes to protect middle infielders

MESA, Ariz. – Add an emphasis on footwork around second base to this year’s spring training infield fundamentals.

Major league officials stopped in Mesa on Saturday to talk to the Cubs field staff as part of tour of camps to explain the tweak to rules regarding takeout slides on the bases and the elimination of the “neighborhood” play by fielders turning double plays.

The changes are the result of Chase Utley hard, late slide that broke Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada’s leg in last year’s playoffs.

Utley was ruled safe after preventing the throw to first, and the Dodgers scored a run on the play. That “roll block” slide is now illegal, and Utley would have been out under the new rules.

Runners are now in violation if they alter their paths to try to take out infielders, kick an infielder above the knee or slide on top of the bag or without intent to reach the bag and stay there.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said that shouldn’t be a big deal to his team. “I don’t want our guys doing that anyhow,” he said.

For example, Chris Coghlan’s slide in Pittsburgh that injured Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang in September is considered legal under the new rules, underscoring what MLB executive Joe Torre said in October when he called it a clean play. In that case, Kang put himself in harm’s way on the play.

Infielders figure to have the bigger adjustment because the “neighborhood play” – when the relay man on a double play doesn’t actually touch the base on a routine turn – no longer is an out.

And it’s subject to review. Even with replay challenges in effect the last two seasons, neighborhood plays were allowed to stand as outs unless the throw was determined to be the factor keeping the infielder from touching the base.

Maddon’s message to his fielders: “Do everything you’ve done to this point, but be aware that if the throw’s off line at all to make sure you get the out at second base and not just try to complete the double play where we get nobody out.”

One complaint that has arisen over the emphasis on touching second is the potential added injury danger that could create for an infielder. Mets manager Terry Collins, naturally, is among those concerned about that.

“So is [the change] counter-intuitive?” Maddon said. “I don’t think it is the way it was explained.

“I think common sense shall prevail.”