by Ty Schadt, Sports Editor
Every February, MLB teams meet in a warm location to get back into the swing of things before the official season starts. This period is known as Spring Training and typically consists of drills, scrimmages and practices. However, this year the MLB is implementing several experimental rule changes for the preseason.
In an effort to improve the pace of gameplay, ESPN reported that an intentional walk will be issued by means of a signal from the dugout, as opposed to the traditional four pitches. In certain situations, it may be more beneficial for the pitcher to issue a walk to the batter, in order to set up a force out or double play. This usually happens when a runner is on second or third base, and there are less than two outs. Traditionally, the catcher stands up behind the plate, sticks out his right arm and the pitcher proceeds to toss the ball way outside for four straight pitches. However, thanks to the new rule, the same thing can be accomplished without the pitcher throwing these unnecessary pitches. Since the pitcher won’t have to break his normal rhythm to lob in the four balls, it could help him stay focused on the mound. Cincinnati Reds reliever Drew Storen told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I’m fine with it. For me to have to waste four pitches then have to pinpoint the next one, it’s not the easiest thing in the world.”
Several pitchers will also experiment with wearing a protective cap-helmet while on the mound. This is in an effort to cut down on the risk of serious injury if a line drive were to be hit right back at the pitcher; these occurrences have become more frequent over the years. For example, in Sept. 2016, Anaheim Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker was struck in the head by a 105-mph line drive. According to the LA Times, Shoemaker underwent emergency brain surgery to stop internal bleeding. Had he been wearing one of the new hybrid helmets, would his injury have been less significant? Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon doesn’t seem ready to make the switch. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the three-time all-star claimed, “It looks funny. Just because of the looks, it might not be something that I wear during the season.” However, his teammate Jared Hughes disagreed. “I didn’t feel it on my head. It felt like a normal hat. It’s going to keep me safer, and it feels comfortable.” Despite making the wearer look like Super Mario, it seems as though these helmets are a step in the right direction for pitcher safety.
Additionally, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported that minor league teams are going to place a runner on second base if a game reaches extra innings. This is also in an effort to speed up the pace of gameplay, but does it diminish nature of the sport? This seems like a cheap way to keep fans interested in a long game, and one that won’t indicate which team truly deserved to win. MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre told ESPN, “Let’s see what it looks like. It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.”
It will be interesting to see how all these experiments will be received. Times are changing in the world’s most traditional and consistent sport, but it might be for the best. Essentially, if fans are happy and players are safe, everyone wins, and that’s what the league is shooting for with these new rules.