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MLB Announces 20-Second Pitch Clock For Spring Training Games

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(Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Major League Baseball announced Friday afternoon that a 20-second pitch clock will be implemented for 2019 spring training games, an experimental step in the growing effort to increase pace of play.

The 20-second pitch timer will be implemented in three phases during Grapefruit and Cactus League games.

  1. A 20-second pitch clock will operate without enforcement in the first spring training games to get players and umpires comfortable with the clock.
  2. Beginning next week, umpires will issue reminders to hitters and pitchers who violate the rule, but no ball-strike penalties will be assessed.
  3. Later in spring training, umpires will be instructed to issue ball-strike penalties to violators, pending negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association.

MLB did not issue firm dates for when each new phase would be implemented during spring training. No decision has been made on whether the timer will be used in regular-season games.

The timer will begin when the pitcher receives the throw back from the catcher. It will not be used for the first pitch of an at-bat but then will be used for each subsequent pitch.

There are exceptions. The pitch clock will not be used after a foul ball, a mound visit or the umpire calls “time." The timer will reset to 20 seconds after a pickoff play, wild pitch or passed ball, or if a pitcher steps off the rubber with runners on base.

Baseball has experimented with pitch clocks in the minors for years. Beginning in 2015 all Double-A and Triple-A games were played with a 20-second pitch clock. In 2018 it was reduced to a 15-second timer when no runners were on base.

Pitchers were assessed a ball if they had not begun their pitching motion or the motion to come set by the time the clock expired. Hitters were penalized with an extra strike if they were not in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher by the five-second mark of the pitch timer.

Those same guidelines will be used for spring training games this year.

Last year, the Baseball America discussed the implementation of pitch clocks at the MiLB level in a staff roundtable.

MLB made the first significant move to increase pace of play last year by limiting each team to six mound visits per nine-inning game. It also announced a reduction in the time allowed between innings.

The introduction of the pitch clock in spring training comes at a time when pace of play has been an oft-discussed topic by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The average nine-inning game took exactly three hours last season, according to Baseball-Reference.com, five minutes shorter than the average nine-inning game in 2017. The average nine-inning game has taken at least three hours in four of the last five seasons after never previously happening in MLB history.

Manfred has stated he has the right to unilaterally impose a pitch clock for the regular season, but would prefer to come to an agreement with the MLBPA.

Rule 5.07(c) in the MLB rulebook already stipulates the pitcher must deliver a pitch within 12 seconds of receiving the ball when there are no runners on base. However, that rule also states those 12 seconds begin only when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher.

The 20-second pitch clock announced Friday begins when the pitcher takes possession of the ball in the dirt circle around the rubber and the catcher is in the box. The hitter's status has no effect on when the clock begins.

Per an MLB spokesperson, the new rules announced today replace for spring training what was previously 5.07(c).

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