Miami Marlins

New rule could affect intentional walks, strike zone could shrink

Miami Marlins pinch hitter Ichiro Suzuki grounds out during the ninth inning of the game against the Washington Nationals on May 20, 2016 at Marlins Park in Miami.
Miami Marlins pinch hitter Ichiro Suzuki grounds out during the ninth inning of the game against the Washington Nationals on May 20, 2016 at Marlins Park in Miami. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Two of the quirkiest moments in Marlins history will never be repeated if a new rule involving intentional walks is implemented. The strike zone could shrink as well.

According to an ESPN report, the competition committee at the Major League Baseball owners’ meetings agreed last week to do away with the traditional four-pitch intentional walk in addition to raising the lower limit of the strike zone to the top of the knees.

The new rules could take effect as early as next season.

If approved, batters who are being walked intentionally would automatically be awarded the base without any pitches being thrown.

Most players don’t have a major problem with that change.

But it would have dramatically altered the outcomes of two Marlins games.

In 2006, Miguel Cabrera was being walked intentionally when one of the pitches strayed close enough to the plate that he reached out and swatted the ball for a go-ahead single.

And in 2011, former Marlins closer Steve Cishek was in the process of intentionally walking Seattle’s Carlos Peguero when, with a runner on third and the score tied in extra innings, one of his outside heaves got past the catcher for a wild pitch. It proved to be the deciding run.

“That’s a part of the game that shouldn’t be changed because there’s some pitchers that struggle with that,” the Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki said. “Then it’s going to be, if you hit a home run, you don’t have to run the bases. I’m just worried that you’re going to change the game.”

While a new intentional walk rule would likely have marginal impact, the change in the strike zone could be monumental. The current rule stipulates that the lowest part of the strike zone begins at “the hollow beneath the kneecap.” If it is moved by two or three inches to the top of the knee, it would benefit hitters.

“It could be huge,” Marlins infielder Chris Johnson said. “Hitters are going to love it. Anytime you’re talking about the strike zone, that’s a big deal, because that’s pretty much what this game is all about. Guys are going to get more hits. Guys are going to walk more.”

Pitchers, of course, aren’t going to like a smaller strike zone.

“They’re talking about only a matter of inches,” Marlins reliever David Phelps said. “But if you look at a bat and go up the end of a bat a couple of inches, you are talking about the sweet spot of a bat, and that’s a matter of a fly out versus a home run.”

Asked if he thought he would already have 3,000 hits by now if the strike zone had been smaller to begin with, Ichiro — who sat at 2,950 hits entering Saturday — laughed.

“Maybe 4,000,” he joked.

yelich scratched

Christian Yelich was scratched from Saturday’s lineup because of back spasms and was listed as day-to-day. Yelich has dealt with back issues in the past. He spent time on the disabled list last season with a back strain and also missed time with back spasms in 2014.

Ichiro started in left field for Yelich on Saturday.

▪ Mike Dunn took another step in his return from the disabled list on Saturday when he threw 27 pitches in a simulated game.

“It was pretty much a glorified bullpen [session],” Dunn said.

Dunn, who sustained a left forearm strain at the start of the season, would be a welcome addition to a bullpen that lacks a left-hander. Dunn said he is scheduled to make three rehab appearances this week for Single A Jupiter, followed by another in extended spring training at the start of the following week.

If all goes well, Dunn could come off the DL during the Marlins’ next homestand.

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