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Rob Manfred tries to smooth out Red Sox’ strike zone frustrations

Rob Manfred spoke before Tuesday’s game at Fenway Park.
Rob Manfred spoke before Tuesday’s game at Fenway Park.(Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred spoke in the Red Sox clubhouse Tuesday about the strike zone issues the team has had this season.

“This issue came up in the Red Sox clubhouse today and I will tell you what I told them: There has been absolutely no direction to umpires to expand strike zone or to expand it in conjunction with pace-0f-game effort,” Manfred told the media during a news conference. “Our sole and exclusive focus with respect to the strike zone is to make sure that we’re calling the rule-book strike as closely as possible and as uniformly as possible across all umpires.”

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Manfred was in town as a part of a tour to visit all 30 clubs.

After discussing possible fan safety measures Major League Baseball could take and the implications of the FBI’s investigation into the St. Louis Cardinals allegedly hacking the Houston Astros’ network, Manfred fielded questions on various other topics while at Fenway Park:

On the pace-of -play initiative: “We are really encouraged by the early results. I said from the beginning I was not focused on a particular game time, but the game time is down. It is one metric and I think equally important is that the people we have out observing games every day have almost a uniform impression that the pace of the game, the way they move along, is much improved this year and those are all positives. I think that is due in no small measure to two groups: No. 1, the unbelievable level of cooperation we’ve gotten from players. I’m not sure exactly what accounts for it, but I know we engaged in a process with the MLBPA that included extensive player involvement from the very beginning. The second group I would be remiss if I didn’t mention was the umpires. I think the umpires have made moving the game along the focus and they’ve done it without creating needless confrontations, so I have to commend both in that regard.”

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On Commissioner’s Office view of the Montreal market: “The Montreal market was a Major League market and, in my own view, is that it could be a Major League market again. I think the mayor in Montreal has embarked on a course of action that is actually quite prudent and effective. I think two years of exhibition games where they sold 95,000 tickets over two days each year is a great concrete indicator of the level of interest. I know that he would like to have a regular-season series there, but those talks are in the very early formative stages as to whether that can take place. I do believe it would be a useful next step. Before we’re going to relocate or expand into a market like that, there has to a credible, realistic plan for a facility. The team left last time because of a facility problem. I think it’s unlikely that we would go back without a plan for a newer or better facility.”

On growing popularity of fantasy sports and MLB’s recent embrace of it: “I think fantasy sports and daily games are a really important part of fan engagement. It’s one of the reasons we were interested in expanding our relationship with Draft Kings and it’s another way for fans to be interested in the game on a daily basis and I think it’s an important issue for us going forward.”

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On concerns it sanctioned gambling in any way: “Look, the federal government defined what’s fantasy and what’s gambling. We spent a lot of time and effort analyzing the games on the Draft Kings site with our own internal staff and outside experts and we were comfortable that they were fantasy games within the definition of federal law.”

On MLB’s expansion into Cuba: “I think the regularization of relations with Cuba presents a great opportunity for baseball. I think it would be a very positive development for us if, for example, if regulations were changed in such a way that Cuban players were allowed to come directly to the United States and play or return to Cuba if that’s what they elected to do. I also think additional flexibility with respect to economic matters would provide opportunities for us to operate in the Cuban market. Cuba is a market where baseball is embedded in the culture and those are the markets where we do pretty well.”


Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBVEGA.