The new clock on the center-field wall ticks down, quite noticeable to fans but not always to players.
Yet it continues its countdown, between innings as well as pitches. Sometimes all the way to 0.
Welcome to one of professional baseball’s new measures to speed up the game.
Before the pitch clock gets the call-up to the majors, games involving the Fresno Grizzlies and the other Triple-A and Double-A teams will serve as testing grounds to determine whether new pace-of-play rules are effective or even necessary.
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“We’ve got to speed up the game,” MLB analyst Harold Reynolds said during an offseason interview with The Bee. “It’s become too slow, and we’re losing fans because of it. If the pitch clock works, I’m all for it.”
Many aspects of baseball, which tended to pride itself on being the game without a clock, are now on a timer.
Between innings, there is a break of 2 minutes, 25 seconds. A pitcher must complete his warm-up throws in that time. Pitching changes are timed, too, at 2:25.
During the game, a pitcher has 20 seconds per pitch to begin his throwing motion. When a runner is on and a pitcher is in the stretch position, he can step off the rubber and reset the clock.
Hitters, for their part, must keep at least one foot in the box. If the batter is not “alert to the pitcher” with 5 seconds left, a strike can be called. If a pitcher isn’t in his throwing motion in time, the umpire can call a ball.
“It’s not something I’m thinking about during the game,” Grizzlies catcher Max Stassi said. “But you’re kind of conscious of it now because it has been talked about. … Don’t leave the (batter’s) box. Don’t take too much time on the mound.”
There is a grace period for the first three weeks. But by May 1, umpires can start penalizing violators.
Opinions vary on whether the changes are needed, or if they will shave off enough time to matter.
“I haven’t figured out why we’re trying to speed up the game,” Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “Baseball is supposed to be whatever the pace is.
“Some days you’ve got long days. Other days you’ve got short days. That’s baseball.”
Entering Day 3 of the new Grizzlies’ season, with Fresno winning the first two games, there has been a 2-1 opening night victory that took 2:18 and an 8-4 triumph that ended in 2:33.
And that was with most players not fully cognizant of the countdown clock in center field, along with others near the dugout entrances.
“For me and most of our guys, we work pretty fast so it won’t be a big deal,” said pitcher Brad Peacock, on a major league rehab assignment for Grizzlies parent club Houston. “If you work slow, it’s going to be an adjustment.”
Peacock violated the pitch clock once in his season-opening start. The rest of the time, he was in his motion within the first 10 seconds.
Las Vegas starter Matt Bowman regularly flirted with a clock violation Saturday, usually getting into his motion in the final 3 seconds.
“I don’t think the rules are going to have much effect,” said Las Vegas manager Wally Backman, a former major leaguer. “Twenty seconds is a long time. It just makes it look like it’s speeding up because there’s a clock there.”
If there was any hangup, it was that a couple of pitchers felt rushed in their warm-ups.
“I like to take my time warming up,” 51s starter Steven Matz said. “My catcher was the last out of the first inning. It took him a while to get out between innings, and I wanted him to see a few more of my pitches.”
Few seemed to believe the new rules would affect player performance. But some do hope that the pace picks up.
“There’s nothing worse than throwing ball 2, ball 3, then a pitcher walking around the mound and slowing the game,” Grizzlies pitching coach Ace Adams said. “Everybody hates you.”
Adams also expressed annoyance at batters stepping out of the box to conduct lengthy routines.
“I hope the the rules help,” Adams said. “Sometimes, the pace drives me crazy.”