MLB will institute several rule changes and alterations to the game in 2023, including the use of larger bases. Photo by Alex Butler/UPI
JUPITER, Fla., March 8 (UPI) -- Baseball fans will need to hone their concession stand visit skills as MLB's wave of rule changes triggers shorter games that players say favor the offense. But so far, they've shown they are awkward at adapting the rules during spring training.
Miami Marlins outfielder Jazz Chisholm Jr. was the victim of one new rule Tuesday in the fifth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Washington Nationals in Jupiter, Fla. Chisholm was called for a strike without a pitch being thrown because he took long to get back into the batter's box. He later struck out.
Hitters must have both feet in the batter's box before an outfield clock ticks down to 8 seconds, or they will receive an automatic strike.
Pitchers now have just 15 seconds to throw each pitch when bases are empty or the batter will receive a called ball. Pitchers are allowed 20 seconds to pitch when a runner is on base.
"I think we are doing a pretty good job of controlling the game that way," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of his strategy for coaching pitchers. "We are going to get on the mound and throw the ball."
To illustrate to disbelievers how fast play can be, one-half inning of Tuesday's game was shorter than 60 seconds.
Breaks between innings were not impacted by the new rules. They already were reduced somewhat in 2019 and stand at about 2 minutes.
Clocks behind home plate and beyond the outfield wall at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium helped players stay on schedule. Similar clocks are installed in MLB ballparks.
MLB.com data shows that the new rules have led to average game lengths of about 2 1/2 hours through the first week of spring training, between 20 and 30 minutes quicker than last year.
MLB games averaged at least three hours for each of the last seven seasons. Tuesday's game took 2 hours, 23 minutes to complete. The average MLB game time hasn't been shorter than that since the 1950s.
The clocked pitcher-hitter exchanges are the most eye-catching change to the game this season. MLB also opted to limit batter timeouts and pitcher disengagements -- pickoff attempts or step-offs.
"From a hitting standpoint, it's about just getting used to being ready. With nobody on, you have to be ready by the eight-second mark," Marlins third baseman Jon Berti said. "So just trying to work on the routine, simplifying some things just to be ready. But that goes for defense and offense.
"Until you are in the game, it's hard to practice. That's why spring training is so important."
The new rules encompass more than just times.
For example each base grew to 18 inches square this season from 15 inches last year. That shortened the distance from first to home and from third to home by 3 inches and reduced the distance between first and second and second and third base by 4 1/2 inches. Home plate was unchanged.
A new MLB base is shown at a spring training game between the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals on Tuesday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by Alex Butler/UPI
MLB says the change was made to give players more room to operate and to avoid collisions, The slightly shorter distance between bases and bigger targets should excite base stealers like Berti, who led MLB with 41 stolen bases last season.
"Maybe now, with the shorter base paths, you might be safe," Berti said. "I'm mixing that in with still trying to figure out how to take advantage of the pickoff [rule] a little bit, but we'll see how that goes."
MLB's additional move to restrict infield defensive shifts is expected to increase batting averages and decrease strikeouts.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who announced the rule changes in September, said the changes would "improve pace of play, increase action and reduce injuries," based on data MLB collected when it first tested the alterations in Minor League Baseball.
The changes also led to increased batting averages and stolen bases in the minors.
Berti said he hopes Marlins base runners can take advantage of teams based on how they adapt from their old habits to the new way when it comes to situations like pitcher pickoff and step-offs this season.
Some hitters, like San Diego Padres slugger Manny Machado, are less known for stolen bases and more remembered for taking their time in the batter's box.
The All-Star slugger, who ranked inside the Top 50 last season for time between pitches (23.6 seconds), was the first player given an automatic strike for that infraction in 2023 spring training.
"That time came by quick," Machado told reporters last month. "It's definitely something we have to get used to. It kinda takes away your routine."
Mark Canha and Pete Alonso of the New York Mets led MLB last season in length of time between pitches, averaging 27.5 and 27.2 seconds, respectively.
Marlins pitcher Trevor Rogers said he worked this off-season on getting the ball back into his glove and developing a quicker pace. He said less time available reduces "overthinking" between pitches and is better for baseball.
"I think it's great," Rogers said. "The old-fashioned part of me thought baseball shouldn't have a clock, but I'm really seeing how it's speeding up the product, and there's not really dead time in between pitches.
"Guys aren't doing a lot of pointless stuff and they're getting in the box. We are getting on the mound and we're going to compete. I think it's overall it's good for the game."
Chisholm was the only player to break the time limit rule Tuesday in Jupiter, but the Marlins star remains confident he will capitalize on rushing pitchers later this season.
"You want them to rush, because any pitcher who rushes, you know that's a pitch right down the middle, or a 3-2 pitch that can be ball four and you're in their head now," Chisholm said. "Then they [might] leave a first pitch strike down the middle, right to hit a homer."
Chisholm, who hit 14 home runs in 60 games last year before a season-ending back injury, said he did not make any changes to his rhythm in the batter's box in light of the new rules.
"I listen to my music, vibe, get up there and feel good," Chisholm said.
The new MLB rules will not be used in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. The 2023 MLB regular season will start March 30.