David Phelps is usually sound asleep by 9 p.m. during spring training. Giancarlo Stanton has been hitting in broad daylight all March. But come the start of the regular season next week, they’ll turn into baseball werewolves — a sudden adjustment to their eyes and body clocks they and other major leaguers are in favor of taming.
Specifically, they would like to see the final week of spring training games played under the lights to put them in tune with the the season, when most games are played at night.
And that’s just for starters.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly is in favor of implementing a “re-entry” system for starting pitchers in spring training games in order to control their pitch counts.
Nobody wants to tinker too much with baseball tradition. But they said a few changes would be beneficial.
“I’ve always said the last week should be night games, just to transition you in to that routine and that schedule,” Phelps said.
Stanton said it takes him anywhere from five to seven games for his eyes to adjust to hitting in artificial lighting.
“You need, I’d say, five to seven games to get acclimated to it,” Stanton said. “That doesn’t mean a [spring training] night game on March 15 and back to a day game again. You need [a handful of night] games in a row to get ready.”
The Marlins will end up playing 93 percent of their spring training games during the day, though they have back-to-back night games scheduled Friday and Saturday and an exhibition against the New York Yankees at Marlins Park the night of April 1. During the season, 80 percent of games will be played at night.
They’ll close out their Grapefruit League slate with four consecutive day games.
“You start drinking coffee at hours you can never even imagine,” Phelps said of going from a day to night schedule.
Then there’s pitching.
One purpose of spring training is to help starting pitchers gradually build their endurance and arm strength.
“You’re building then to a pitch count,” Mattingly said. “You’re kind of like adding 15 a start — 30 to 45 to 60 to 75. Once you get to 90, you’re kind of there.”
But what happens when a pitcher has a bad day and throws 25 or 30 pitches in the first or second inning, and the plan called for him to pitch five or six innings?
Mattingly would like to be able to remove that pitcher once his pitch count reaches a dangerous level, bring in a reliever to complete the inning, and then send the starter back out the next inning.
That way, Mattingly said, fans would still be able to see star pitchers such as Jose Fernandez while teams could control their usage.
Spring training rules are already less rigid.
On Thursday, for example, the Minnesota Twins went by American League rules, using a designated hitter in their game against the Marlins. The Marlins let pitcher Adam Conley hit for himself.
And extra-inning games rarely go beyond 10 innings even when the score remains tied.
Former manager Joe Torre, who now works for Major League Baseball, said changes involving spring training could be forthcoming, especially Mattingly’s proposal involving starting pitchers.
“I love that, but I’ll probably get my hand slapped for saying it, because I’ve been raising that issue for years,” Torre said.
On the other hand, Torre said baseball must be cognizant of fans.
“You have people pay money to come to the game, and they really come to see baseball played by the rules,” Torre said. “It’s not like we polled the public on this, and we don’t want to cheat the fans in any way. But you’re not really cheating the fans. You’re giving them the opportunity to see [pitchers] longer.”