(670 The Score) MLB’s decision to allow teams to shorten spring training games and abruptly end innings without three outs being made has led to some backlash.
Instead of the default being that spring training games go the usual nine innings, the general rule of thumb early on is that teams will play seven innings – or perhaps even five depending on what's agreed upon before the game. This new format has come to the attention of fans in recent days as spring training games have just started.
Most jarring, teams can choose to end an inning at the end of any given at-bat if their pitcher has thrown 20 pitches or more – regardless of how many outs there are or the game situation.
The length of any given Cactus League or Grapefruit League game right now is anyone’s guess, as teams are now allowed to negotiate ahead of time. Seven innings seems to be the default for some, but they may go as short as five innings. Games can also be the usual nine innings if the sides agree. Starting March 13, teams must play seven innings or more.
The changes are in place to help limit workloads, particularly for pitchers, amid potential COVID-19 complications and with minor league players not reporting to Arizona and Florida until April 1. Still, fans are paying full price on tickets to watch an incomplete product.
In the White Sox’s seven-inning game against the Rangers on Tuesday, five separate half-innings weren’t completed. Some fans voiced their displeasure with booing, according to reports.
“MLB is concerned about the health of the arms,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “That is why we shortened games. You can only have so many pitchers and players in camp (due to COVID-19 protocols). There are all kinds of reasons that make sense, but fans are paying to come to games. I know they were disappointed. They voiced it several times. From the White Sox side, we are going to do everything we can to avoid it. It's purely the correct thing to do for the fans.”
For his part, Cubs manager David Ross admitted it’s a complicated topic in which he sees both sides.
"As much as you don't want to roll an inning, KB (Kris Bryant) and I were talking in the dugout that if you roll over an inning, that should be an automatic run for the team,” Ross said. “At the end of the day, these are exhibition games and I do understand that fans want their teams to win and cheer for the group. We are trying to keep players healthy for the games that count. I understood what Tony said and the displeasure of the fans. I am less worried about that than my player's health, to be honest with you.”
Ross was sensitive to the fact the fans are paying full price for tickets to these games.
"I certainly hate to have fans feel that way,” Ross said. “I get that they are paying hard-earned money and not getting the level of play they thought. What I would say to that is we are in the middle of unique times in our world. We want to be our best to get through a 162-game season and give the fans the best product we can possibly give them. We need to protect guys on the front end after only playing 60 games and limited innings (in 2020). I don't disagree with the fans being upset. They are paying the money. We also have an obligation to MLB and these players to keep them healthy and do right by them.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.