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BASEBALL NOTEBOOK

MLB adopts pitch clock and limits on defensive shifts for 2023 despite opposition from players

A pitch clock was used during minor league games this year, including this matchup between the Brooklyn Cyclones and Greensboro Grasshoppers.John Minchillo/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball adopted its first pitch clock, limits on defensive shifts, and larger bases for next season in an effort to shorten games and increase offense in a tradition-bound sport.

The decision on the clock and shift restrictions by the sport’s 11-man competition committee was made Friday over the unanimous opposition of the panel’s players, who approved the larger bases. The changes had long been pushed by commissioner Rob Manfred in an effort to combat the increase in dead time over four decades and suffocation of offense in the age of analytics.

“Throughout the extensive testing of recent years, minor league personnel and a wide range of fans — from the most loyal to casual observers — have recognized the collective impact of these changes in making the game even better and more enjoyable,” Manfred said in a statement.

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Until last winter, MLB needed one year advance notice to make on-field rules changes without approval of the Players’ Association. The union agreed in the March lockout settlement to establish the committee, which includes six management representatives, four players, and one umpire.

“Players live the game — day in and day out. On-field rules and regulations impact their preparation, performance, and ultimately, the integrity of the game itself,” the union said in a statement. “Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that players raised.”

The pitch clock will be set at 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners — up from the 14/19 tested at Triple A this season and 14/18 at lower minor league levels.

There will be a limit of two of what MLB calls “disengagements” — pickoff attempts or steps off the rubber — per plate appearance, and a balk will be called for a third or more unless there is an out. The disengagement limit would be reset if a runner advances.

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A catcher will be required to be in the catcher’s box with nine seconds left on the clock and a hitter in the batter’s box and focused on the pitcher with eight seconds remaining. Penalties for violations will be a ball called against a pitcher and a strike called against a batter.

A batter can ask an umpire for time once per plate appearance, and after that it will be granted only at the umpire’s discretion if the request is made while in the batter’s box.

The clock has helped reduce the average time of a nine-inning game in the minor leagues from 3 hours and 4 minutes in 2021 to 2:38 this season. The average time of a nine-inning game in the major leagues this year is 3:06; it was 2:46 in 1989, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The shift limit requires two infielders to be on either side of second and all infielders to be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber, and infielders may not switch sides unless there is a substitution.

Use of shifts has exploded in the past decade, from 2,357 times on balls hit in play in 2011 to 28,130 in 2016 and 59,063 last year, according to Sports Info Solutions. Shifts are on pace for 68,000 this season.

The size of bases will increase to 18-inch squares from 15, promoting safety — first basemen are less likely to get stepped on — but also boosting stolen bases and offense with a 4.5-inch decrease in distance between first and second, and second and third.

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Committee members include St. Louis CEO Bill DeWitt Jr., San Francisco chairman Greg Johnson, Colorado CEO Dick Monfort, Toronto CEO Mark Shapiro, Seattle chairman John Stanton, and Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, and umpire Bill Miller. Players on the panel include Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow, Blue Jays infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield, and Giants outfielder Austin Slater. Cubs infielder Ian Happ also participated as an alternate.

Aaron Hicks benched after key error, Rays beat Yankees again

Aaron Hicks was benched midgame after failing to catch consecutive drives to left that landed for run-scoring doubles in the fourth inning, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees, 4-2, to close within 3½ games in the AL East.

Randy Arozarena hit an RBI double in the first off Frankie Montas (5-12) to put the Rays ahead to stay.

The returning Wander Franco hit a two-out, two-on drive in the fourth that dropped out of Hicks’ glove along the left-field foul line just in front of the wall. Hicks drooped his head for a few seconds, thinking he caught the ball and the drive was foul, and two runs scored before he reacted and picked up the ball.

Hicks was booed by a sellout crowd of 46,160 that came to Yankee Stadium on a night when former captain Derek Jeter was honored in a pregame ceremony.

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Arozarena drove the next pitch to left, and Hicks backpedaled a half-dozen steps while taking a bad route on a difficult fly, and the ball dropped behind him on the warning track as Franco scored for a 4-0 lead.

Rookie Estevan Florial replaced Hicks at the start of the fifth, prompting cheers. In the fourth season of a $70 million, seven-year contract, Hicks struck out twice and is hitting .212 with 36 RBIs.

Drew Rasmussen (10-4), reinstated from the paternity list allowed six hits in six scoreless innings, striking out a career-high 10. The Rays have won for nine of 10 and 15 of 18.

Mets, in NL East battle, fall to also-ran Miami

Pete Alonso hit his 33rd home run but the New York Mets could not erase an early deficit and lost, 6-3, to the Miami Marlins. New York, which began the day clinging to a half-game lead in the NL East over Atlanta, squandered a pair of good scoring chances by grounding into double plays. The defending World Series champion Braves played later in Seattle, looking to take sole possession of first place for the first time all season. The only day this year the Mets did not hold at least a share of the division lead was April 11 . . . In Arlington, Texas, Bo Bichette homered for the fifth time in the last four games, Danny Jansen hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the ninth inning, and the playoff-contending Toronto Blue Jays beat Texas, 4-3, despite top Rangers prospect Josh Jung hitting a home run in his first career at-bat. The Blue Jays maintained a 4½-game lead over Baltimore for the American League’s third and final wild-card spot and won for the 16th time in their last 22 games . . . Brewers righthander Freddy Peralta went on the 15-day injured list with inflammation in his throwing shoulder before Cincinnati beat Milwaukee, 8-2. The 2021 All-Star left during the third inning of his start Thursday night in Milwaukee against San Francisco due to fatigue in the shoulder. “You’ve got to get symptom free and then we’ll start throwing again,” manager Craig Counsell said. Peralta (4-3, 3.45 ERA) has made 15 starts. Since missing more than two months with a strained right lat, he made seven starts, reaching six innings in two of them . . . Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto hit solo homers and Noah Syndergaard pitched well into the seventh inning to keep Philadelphia in playoff position with a 5-3 victory over Washington. Reliever Brad Hand failed to earn a save in the ninth when he put two runners on, but Nick Nelson retired Riley Adams on a grounder to earn his first save in the majors . . . Oneil Cruz finished a home run short of the cycle, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat St. Louis, 8-2, to keep the Cardinals from stretching their lead atop the NL Central. Cruz had a two-run triple, a double, and an RBI single to extend his hitting streak to six games, matching the rookie’s longest in the majors.

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