Fans may need to carve out a little less time to catch a Sky Sox game this season.
At least that’s the hope of Minor League Baseball, which announced sweeping changes Wednesday aimed at quickening the pace of play.
Effective immediately, each extra inning in the minor leagues will begin with a runner on second base. The pitch clock will be shortened from 20 to 15 seconds with no runners on base. Finally, in Triple-A, teams will be limited to six mound visits per game.
“We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the game and will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest,” Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner said. “Player safety has been an area of growing concern for our partners at the Major League Baseball level, and the impact that lengthy extra-innings games has on pitchers, position players and an entire organization was something that needed to be addressed.”
The Sky Sox declined to comment on the new rules.
Shortening the game has long been a goal for a sport that wants to remain connected to a younger generation of fans. In the 1970s the average major league game took 2 hours, 30 minutes. In 2003 the average jumped to 2 hours, 46 minutes. Last year it reached an all-time high at more than 3 hours, 5 minutes.
The Sky Sox saw nine of their final 12 games go at least 3 hours this past season.
There will be some leeway with the new regulations.
If an umpire determines a pitcher and catcher are crossed up in signs, an extra mound visit is granted beyond the allotment. Also, an extra visit will be allowed for each extra inning.
Allowable mound visits will be staggered among minor league levels. At Triple-A, which the Sky Sox will be for one more season, the limit is six. That grows to eight for Double-A and steps up gradually before reaching no limits for Rookie-level clubs, which Colorado Springs will be beginning in 2019.
For the pitch clock, the pitcher must begin their wind-up or motion to the plate within 15 seconds. With runners on base that grows to 20 seconds. The clock will restart after any events – pick-off play, “time” awarded by the umpire, etc. – that allows the batter to leave the box.
If the pitcher doesn’t meet the clock requirements, a ball will be called. If the batter doesn’t return to the box with 7 or more seconds remaining on the clock, a strike will be called.
The new extra-innings format will be adopted across all minor league levels. For scoring purposes, the runner will be treated as though he reached second base via error (though no error will be awarded). So pitchers will not be charged with an earned run if that runner scores. The runner will be the player in the lineup before the leadoff hitter in that inning, though teams will be allowed to substitute in that spot.