By Ernie Palladino
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If nothing else, baseball’s new rules limiting mound visits to six per nine innings and cutting back on commercial breaks put off all the silly talk about instituting a pitch clock to speed up the game.
But the visit limit could make things a little dicey for certain batteries, especially when signs have to be switched up midstream to keep some nasty opponent from swiping them.
The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, for instance, may have to put in quite a bit of extra pregame preparation on the days he catches Masahiro Tanaka. As it was, the sight of Sanchez striding out to any of his pitchers became almost automatic as soon as an opponent reached second, which is regarded as prime sign-stealing position. But since Tanaka and Sanchez knew just enough English to communicate up close, it became a workable situation.
But now they’ll have to do it long-distance for the most part, and that could cause some tense early-game moments as they attempt to save those important trips for later and more pivotal jams.
There’s just nothing like getting up close and personal with a teammate in times of strife.
The same goes for any battery around baseball that battles a language barrier. But the limited mound visits will benefit baseball as a whole a lot more than the alternatives the honchos previously contemplated.
A pitch clock, for instance, would have changed the game itself. Pitching, after all, is a game of tempo and timing as well as power, movement and guile. Take away the first two and you change the nature of the act.
Limiting mound visits is simply changing logistics, though that will create its own set of challenges for everyone, native speakers or not. But if keeping catchers behind the plate where they belong serves to shorten games that reached historic durations last year — three hours and five minutes for an average nine-inning game — then have at it.
Credit commissioner Rob Manfred for not going overboard with the rule change. Visits to change pitchers won’t count, so managers can still use their bullpens at will. Nor will visits after the insertion of a pinch-hitter.
And if the umpire determines a pitcher is truly confused, the catcher gets a free visit.
That should give catchers ample opportunity for up-close communication.
The rest will be up to the manager and his ability to prepare his batteries before the game. Those who do it best — cover all the bases, so to speak — will gain an edge.
The limit may prove faulty, but it can always be altered in succeeding seasons. The point is that baseball is trying something to keep an often sluggish game moving without changing the game itself.
The ultimate solution would be to cut out a commercial or two between innings, but baseball isn’t about to leave all that money on the table. So having pitchers throw their last warmup toss 20 seconds before the end of each inning break should also help speed things up. After all, how long does an already warm pitcher need to get loose between innings?
If these changes can keep things moving a bit, who knows? Perhaps MLB will retract that ridiculous intentional walk rule and make the pitcher actually throw the four balls again. Certainly, that one has proved itself a dud.
But limiting the catcher visits and speeding up the pitchers between innings might be the start of solving the problem of long, tedious games.
They’re harmless enough.
And something needed to be done.
Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino