Cubs pitchers, manager no fans of drastic rule changes MLB testing in indy ball
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If Rob Manfred had any admirers in major-league clubhouses before he became commissioner four years ago, good luck finding one now.
As though players’ growing discontent with Major League Baseball’s labor squeeze in recent years hadn’t put enough distance between the commissioner’s office and the men in uniform, some of MLB’s radical proposals for changes in the basics of the game are being derided openly.
MLB announced Friday an agreement with the independent Atlantic League to test-drive a few changes being considered by the commissioner’s office. They include relief pitchers facing a minimum of three batters (or finishing an inning), the elimination of extreme infield shifts (two players required on each side of second base) and, most radical of all, moving the mound two feet farther from home plate (to be implemented in the second half of the Atlantic League season).
‘‘That’s Manfred. He’s changing the game,’’ Cubs veteran left-hander Cole Hamels said sarcastically. ‘‘He can do whatever he needs to do.’’
That comes two weeks after veteran left-hander Jon Lester was asked whether he had noticed the 20-second pitch clock being used this spring to prod pitchers into working faster.
‘‘Sure,’’ he said dismissively. ‘‘Whatever makes people feel better.’’
Pitch clocks and limits on mound visits might seem irritating, but eliminating shifts and mandating batter minimums for relievers begin to tamper with the way the game is played. And altering its dimensions might be harmful for pitchers, who already bear the highest risk for injury among players.
‘‘Let’s just hope that guys can stay healthy,’’ Hamels said. ‘‘I think anytime when you’re messing with distances and stuff like that . . . I guess guys will just have to figure it out.’’
The dimensions of the mound, including its 10-inch height, wouldn’t change.
‘‘I know that’ll be Manfred’s stamp,’’ Hamels said. ‘‘And you know what? We’ll probably be talking about it more in 10 to 15 years if anything ever happens.’’
Count manager Joe Maddon as one of the many against the mandated minimum number of hitters a reliever must face.
‘‘I don’t like it at all,’’ he said. ‘‘Pace of the game’s one thing. Pitch clocks, getting the pitch thrown quicker, I’m good with that. But when you start messing with game strategy, that’s what I really am not into at all.’’
Maddon and others have suggested such a rule could eliminate situational lefties from the game entirely. That’s one reason he thinks it would be an especially hard sell in a negotiation with MLB players.
‘‘I don’t see that one gaining a whole lot of traction; that one doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘Again, you’re messing with typical, longtime, forever baseball strategy.’’
In recent years, the fake pickoff move to third and throw to first was outlawed, along with the chore of throwing four pitches to give an intentional walk. Both affected strategy in smaller ways. Some baserunners were made uncomfortable by the fake move, and a handful of pitchers tended to sweat when they had to throw balls intentionally out of the strike zone.
Moving the mound might be especially risky for pitchers, who are throwing harder than at any time in history and are throwing a wider array of pitches that put stress on joints.
Hamels said that when he was a kid, reaching an age to move up to leagues with bigger fields, his parents eased him first into a league with a less severe jump in pitching distance before allowing him to play in a league with full-sized fields.
‘‘People mature at a different rate,’’ he said. ‘‘With me being a late bloomer, I’m glad my parents were looking after me to make sure I remained safe and healthy. I was glad my parents did that and I didn’t make that huge jump. Something could have gone haywire, and I wouldn’t have been here today.’’