Extra innings will look a lot different for Tacoma Rainiers games at Cheney Stadium this year.
When the 10th inning begins, a runner will start on second base, a rule change Minor League Baseball, partnered with MLB, announced Wednesday. And that will continue every inning until the game ends.
It’s part of baseball’s pace-of-play push, which will also include a 15-second pitch clock when there are no runners on base – for Triple-A and Double-A games only.
So why such a drastic change to the game?
“We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the game,” minor league baseball president Pat O’Conner said in a press release. “Player safety has been an area of growing concern for our partners at the Major League Baseball level, and the impact that lengthy extra innings games has on pitchers, position players and the entire organization was something that needed to be addressed.”
The clock will remain at 20 seconds when there are runners on base, a rule first implemented in 2015.
But that won’t be fully regulated until after the first 15 days of the season (April 5-19), which minor league baseball plans to use as a grace period, with players receiving warnings for infractions.
“We feel that limiting mound visits and decreasing the amount of time between itches with no runners on base will further improve the pace of play and make it a more enjoyable experience for our fans,” O’Conner said.
And if there’s a mound visit with no pitching change, there will be consequences to that, too. The Rainiers and the rest of Triple-A will get a maximum of six mound visits – which includes player visits. Double-A teams get eight and 10 for full-season Class A. There would be no limits at short-season Single-A or rookie leagues and one additional visit will be added for each extra inning.
But a team without any mound visits left may ask the plate umpire for additional trips to deal with crossed-up pitch signals.
Back to the runner starting at second base.
Who is the runner? It’s supposed to the player who batted previous to the leadoff batter of the inning (or a substitute for that player). So if the No. 1-hitter was the last out of the previous inning, he would start on second base the next inning.
So how is it counted if the runner scores? It would be an unearned run. Baseball will treat it as the runner reached on a fielding error, but no error will be charged to the team or any player.
The Tacoma Rainiers begin their season at Cheney Stadium with a five-game series against the Sacramento River Cats on April 5.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677