JUPITER Don Mattingly ordered more intentional walks — 62 — than any other manager in the majors last season. This season, the process of putting a batter on base won’t take quite as long.
Major League Baseball is doing away with the formality of having pitchers lob four balls out of the strike zone in order to walk a batter intentionally. Instead, managers will merely need to signal their desire with the point of a finger or some yet unknown gesture.
“I think it’s good,” the Marlins manager said of the new rule change, which the players’ association agreed to on Wednesday. “It just seems to make sense. Nobody needs to see that, really.”
The change is being made in order to help speed up games, which are becoming increasingly longer. Last season, games were four minutes and 28 seconds longer on average than they were the year before. And while eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk is expected to shave off about a minute each time, the league wants to implement more radical rule changes to create more action.
The most divisive of the league’s proposals: shrinking the strike zone. The league would like to raise the lower part of the strike zone, from just below the cup behind the batter’s kneecap to just above it — an approximate two-inch shrinkage of the strike zone. The reason: The league feels it will reduce the number of walks and strikeouts and lead to an increase in balls batted in play.
Last season marked an all-time low in balls put in play.
But the player’s union isn’t on board with that proposal, and now MLB commissioner Rob Manfred — citing a “lack of cooperation” on the union’s part — said he might use his authority to implement the rule on his own in 2018, with or without their approval.
Players aren’t happy about it.
“Just because we don’t like what’s been proposed doesn’t mean we’re not cooperating,” Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler said. Koehler, who is the team’s union representative, said there has been plenty of dialogue with the league on the topic.
Koehler, Marlins pitcher David Phelps and others aren’t convinced that shrinking the strike zone will create more action by reducing walks while increasing balls put in play. Just the opposite.
“In my mind, making the strike zone smaller leads to more walks, higher pitch counts, more pitching changes,” Phelps said. “In a sense, you’re adding time. Making the strike zone smaller does not get more balls in play. It makes [batters] more selective.”
Two years ago, the league required hitters to remain in the batter’s box, a move that effectively shortened game times. Those who didn’t were either warned or fined.
Koehler said the warnings and fines continued into last season. But it seemed to many that the rule wasn’t enforced as strictly last season and hitters returned to their old habits.
“They started letting guys out of the box again,” Mattingly said.
“It’s deteriorated back to that. Keeping guys in the box keeps the game moving. So I hope we get guys back in the box.”
Most everyone involved agrees that the time required to rule on replay reviews needs to be shortened, or even capped at, say, two minutes. Some reviews have taken close to five minutes.
“There’s no way any replay should ever take five minutes,” Marlins reliever Brad Ziegler said.
“If it takes that long, leave [the original call] as is. Give the umpire the benefit of the doubt.”
Eliminating four-pitch intentional walks might not make a noticeable impact.
After all, there were only 932 of them last season and, at a minute a pop, it would amount to just 15 1/2 hours in time saved over the entire season.
But every little bit helps.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Ichire Suzuki was held out of workouts Wednesday, one day after bruising his right quad and tweaking his back in an outfield collision with Brandon Barnes.
“He’s taking a day off,” Mattingly said “He deserves it, after 17 years or whatever.”
Ichiro is expected to sit out the next few days while the injuries heal.
▪ Mattingly said Edinson Volquez and Koehler are down to pitch in Saturday’s first Grapefruit League game against the Cardinals.
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