As part of a concerted effort to keep the game moving, MLB has employed a pitch clock throughout spring training, giving players a month to learn the ropes before the games start counting. Baseball’s faster pace will be an adjustment for all involved (fans included), though, so far, pitchers have benefited most, working quickly to keep opposing hitters off balance. That learning curve was never more evident than in Monday’s Grapefruit League game in Jupiter, where Cardinals newcomer Willson Contreras (formerly of the Cubs) was rung up by home-plate umpire Reed Basner for going over his allotted eight seconds to get set.
Contreras isn’t the first player to get burned by the dreaded eight-second rule, though his strikeout, albeit in the relatively low-stakes environment of an exhibition game, should serve as a word of warning to fidgety hitters, who no longer have the luxury of adjusting their gloves mid at-bat. These growing pains are to be expected, though data shows that players are already adapting to baseball’s new, faster reality, with violations cut almost in half since the pitch clock was first implemented last month.
Of course, nuance is needed with MLB free to abandon whatever rules aren’t working. The league’s competition committee recently acknowledged we could see “tweaks” prior to next week’s Opening Day with members of the Players Association advocating for, among other proposed changes, relaxing enforcement of the eight-second rule (particularly after foul balls), permitting one timeout per at-bat and granting pitchers longer than the current 15 seconds allotted with bases empty. Outliers will always exist, though outside of a few hiccups, the early returns on MLB’s “pace-of-play” initiative have been promising, with credit to commissioner Rob Manfred for his commitment to improving a struggling sport in need of a long overdue facelift.