Minor League Sports

New rules this season hope to prevent Kernels' extra-inning games from going extra, extra innings

Kernels players arrive at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids for the 2018 season on Sunday, April 1, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Kernels players arrive at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids for the 2018 season on Sunday, April 1, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — If you’re one of those Veterans Memorial Stadium fans that stays for the entire game, don’t be confused by what you’ll see when the Cedar Rapids Kernels get to extra innings this season.

Minor League Baseball is instituting a new rule in which teams begin with a runner at second base once things roll around to the 10th. It’s an attempt to shorten games and save clubs from taxing their pitching staffs.

The Rookie-level Gulf Coast League had the policy last season, but everyone is doing it in 2018.

“We did it last year in the GCL a little bit, so I’ve seen it,” said Kernels Manager Toby Gardenhire, a hitting coach last season for the GCL Twins. “It’s different, shortens up some of the games, which I know is what they are kind of looking for. But it’s kind of like the hockey rules, where all of a sudden, you go to a shootout to decide a game. Or you go 4-on-4. That’s kind of what it reminds me of.”

Though fans seem to be raising a stink about it bastardizing the game, major league teams surely like the new rule because likely it will keep their affiliates’ extra-inning games from going extra, extra innings. There have been times over the years where position players were forced to the mound in Kernels games because they ran out of available pitchers.

Farm directors have been forced to put guys on the ‘Phantom Disabled List’ and temporarily move pitchers from one level to another to help out a team whose pitching staff is overworked because of extra-inning games. The ‘Phantom DL’ is keeping a guy out for seven days, listing him with an injury he probably doesn’t have.

By the way, mound visits are being limited to 10 per game this season in the Midwest League as well.

“It is what it is, man,” said Kernels pitching coach Cibney Bello. “They’re trying to save some time, and they’re also trying to protect the players ... They are trying to extend careers.”

“I’m a baseball guy, go back a long way with the game,” said Gardenhire, whose team opens the Midwest League season with a game Thursday night at Quad Cities. “I’m kind of old school with this stuff, so I’m always leave it as it is. Sometimes I fight the ideas of replay and everything, too. But I do think there’s good and bad with everything. There is always going to be trial and error, and this is one of those trial-and-error things.”

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The batter who makes the final out of the previous inning (or a pinch runner) will be the runner at second base at the start of each extra half-inning. As far as earned runs go, that runner will be considered having reached on an error.

So bullpen guys can relax a little bit about their numbers being inflated.

“I like it. Creates more pressure, more excitement,” said Kernels reliever Kevin Marnon. “When the game gets closer, when it’s on the line, I love pitching in that situation. It will definitely make back-end (bullpen) guys pitch a little differently in extra innings. It is going to be critical to get that first guy out and go from there. Then maybe go after the next guy, or pitch around him to line up a double play. But, yeah, it’ll be critical to get that first guy out.”

While Marnon didn’t mind the rule, Kernels outfielder Trey Cabbage was not a fan.

“They talk about pace of play, and that’s going speed it up, I guess,” Cabbage said. “I don’t necessarily like it. I don’t make the rules, I just follow them. But if it was me, I’d play it straight up. Just a new inning, basically.”

“There are different strategies that you will see with it,” Gardenhire said. “But it’s baseball, and, in the end, you’ve just got to go out there and do what you do. Put a guy out there on second base with nobody out and see what happens. It makes it interesting.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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