Change is never easy.
With the implementation of the 20-second pitch clock at the top two Minor League levels this year, the pace of the game changes have officially hit baseball. This forces players to be more conscious of the amount of time that they take between plays.
While there has been an emphasis at the big league level as well, it is nothing like the drastic changes on pitchers and hitters on the farm. What better way to learn about the adjustments than to talk to those who it affects?
The first to get a taste of the new format was opening day starter Nick Kingham.
“It was not a huge deal for me, but it was definitely in the back of my mind the whole time,” Kingham said. “I found myself staring at it a couple of times to see where I was at. But as a whole, it wasn’t a big deal to me at all.”
Kingham, who typically relies on pace and rhythm as part of his game, said that the clock will not make him change his game long-term.
“I feel that it only bothers you if you are a really slow guy and you kind of have to speed yourself up,” Kingham said. “With me, I don’t think that it is going to be that big of a deal.”
That speed and pace is actually something that Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor admits was there with his squads prior to 2015. He thinks that the new rules just enforce it.
“I think that it really benefits both the hitter and the pitcher,” Treanor said. “The pace and tempo of our games have been very good. We are always preaching tempo anyway, so now it is an extra motivating factor to get that pitch within that 20 seconds.”
Treanor also said that there is a two-fold effect, as it keeps the hitter focused over that span as well. He said that they will stop “worrying about their batting gloves and extra things that don’t matter.”
After a week, Treanor said that he likes what he has seen with how it keeps the game moving. He is also in agreement that part of the trial is to train players before they reach the Major Leagues.
“It is here because if there are any wrinkles or changes that they need to make, it is easier to make them here,” Treanor said. “You saw with how replay started up there and how they have tweaked that, but it is good here. When the players here go there, it is going to be easy for them. I think that it will still be an adjustment for plays up there, but it is good for the game.”
The pitch clock starts at 20 seconds and resets when the pitcher comes set from the stretch or starts his motion from the windup. The clock starts either when the hitter makes his way to the plate or when he returns to the plate. The same Major League rule also applies that the hitter has to keep a foot in the box. The clock also limits the action between innings and warm up times to 2:30.
In the first month of the season, the rules are just on a warning basis. This allows the players to adjust before the penalties take place. A violation will result in a ball or a strike, depending on who the violator is deemed to be.
Indianapolis start Chris Volstad also echoed Kingham’s thoughts about the clock being in his mind, but also thinks that it will not be a long-term issue.
“The first inning, I kind of noticed it,” Volstad said. “I was thinking about it a little bit, but after that, once I got into the rhythm of the game, there weren’t any issues I think. Once you get going with the game, you forget about it. I guess that the umpire will remind you if you ever need to. As far as being an issue, as far as the flow of the game gets going, it seems like it takes of itself.”
A reliever can have a bit of a different impression, however, since they are taxed with the task of pitching primarily from the stretch and dealing with baserunners constantly. They also are more reliant on those warm up pitches when entering the game.
Lefty reliever Bobby LaFromboise said that the preseason was a nice warm up for him to ease into the transition.
“Dealing with it in Spring Training, you kind of had an idea,” LaFromboise said. “I didn’t know that we were going to have the 20 seconds every pitch. The whole timing before the inning starts has been pretty easy. I warm up pretty fast anyways.”
The only issue that LaFromboise sees comes with getting the signs in a timely manner when working with a runner at second base.
“Getting into those game situations, you get guys on base and then you start to think a little more,” LaFromboise said. “The first time that I did it, I couldn’t help but look at the clock a couple of times, and that will go away because you stop thinking about it. I don’t think that I ever had a problem with it, but it is in the back of your mind a little bit.”
LaFromboise said that he likes the concept to speed up the slower working pitchers and to speed up the pace of the game. He said that the key is making quality pitches.
However, he goes back to a possible issue with runners on base for a reliever in seeing the clock running down.
“I think that the only problem that people are going to have is with a guy on second base,” LaFromboise said. “With a guy on second base, you are getting more than one sign. When you are getting multiple signs, if you don’t like the first one, you have to shake it and then all of a sudden, the clock is going down.”
He said that preparation in strategy, like bunt defense and similar signs, could present an issue as well, but he doesn’t expect that aspect to go away any time soon.
While the game has been the same for the past 100 years, tweaking is nothing new. With this change, pace of the game is viewed as a major issue. The new format is here and the pitchers seem to be adjusting well, and taking it in stride.