116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The countdown began.
“5! 4! 3! 2! 1!,” fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium shouted in unison during Friday night’s season opener for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
Then they made the sound of a buzzer going off. Just having fun with one of the experimental rules being employed in minor league baseball this season, including the Midwest League.
Pitch clocks have been installed behind home plate and to the lower right of the scoreboard in right-center to “create a crisp pace of play,” according to Major League Baseball, which runs the minors. Pitchers have 14 seconds to throw a pitch when no one is on base and 18 seconds when there is someone on base.
Batters also must be ready to hit. Correspondingly, pitchers can step off to reset the clock or attempt a pickoff twice during an-bat, but if it happens a third time without an out recorded, baserunners will move up a base.
MLB said when those rules were used at other levels of the minors last season, game-time average was reduced by 20 minutes.
“Yeah, I think (it’s a good thing),” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “Some guys take their time out there pitching, and it delays the game and things like that. So hopefully this gets the game into a rhythm flowing a little bit. Batters get back into the box, and we keep the game moving.”
“It’s a little interesting,” said Kernels pitcher Aaron Rozek. “But I usually work pretty quick, so I don’t think it’ll be too bad.”
First, second and third bases also are physically larger this season, increasing in size from 15 square inches to 18. The reasoning there is safety, especially at first base, with also a possibility of more success on stolen bases.
“They are definitely huge. We call them pizza boxes,” said Kernels first baseman Aaron Sabato. “I think the one thing I’m going to have to really pay attention to, along with the other guys, is the timing of your sliding. With the bigger bases, guys think they have more time to slide, but now you don’t. You might have to slide a step earlier.”
Then there is defensive positioning. Essentially “the shift” is dead.
There must be at least four players with their feet on the infield at all times, and two on each side of second base. The days of a left-handed pull hitter lining a ball to short right field and being thrown out by the second baseman are gone.
“Honestly, it opens up a lot of holes for both sides,” said Kernels third baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand. “I think there will be more offense, for sure. We can still do the shift, but, obviously, we just can’t go past the bag.”
“It’s good and bad,” Dinkelman said. “I feel like it kind of penalizes the pitchers because the hitter at the plate can’t make an adjustment to hit the ball the opposite way or where the defenders aren’t at. But it also opens more holes for hitters, too, to get balls in play and (provide) more action. Double-edged sword. We’ll see how it goes with two guys on each side of second base.”
The second half of this season will see one more change with the bases. Second base will be moved more toward home, about 13 1/2 inches closer to first and third.
The assumption that there were 90 feet between the bases all these years turned out to be inaccurate. This adjustment, in conjunction with larger bases, will shorten the distance from first to second base and second to third base from 88 feet, 1 1/2 inches to 87 feet.
The theory is to create more activity in the running game, be it stolen bases or going from first to third.
“I guess we’ll try these experiments and see how they work,” Dinkelman said. “Give that feedback to Major League Baseball.”
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