‘An adjustment for everybody’: Tigers sound off on MLB’s on-field rule changes for 2023

Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — Essentially, the reaction from the Tigers’ clubhouse to the three rules changes implemented by Major League Baseball for 2023 falls into three categories. There are those who are steadfastly opposed, those who are opposed to parts of it and those who are willing to give it a shot.

“Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s bad,” manager AJ Hinch said before Friday’s game. “It has to be tried. If we have a bad rule then someone should go to the commissioner and say let’s get rid of it. … I know the premise. I know why the league is doing this and where the league is going. Let’s see.

“I’m not afraid of new things. Like with most things, the initial reaction is going to be pessimistic and as it grows into our game it will become the new normal. Let’s see how it works.”

The game is going to look very different next season.

► No more shifts. Infielders have to play on the dirt, two on each side of second base.

► There will be a pitch timer. A pitcher has to begin his motion before the timer expires. They will have up to 15 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty and up to 20 seconds between pitches with at least one runner on base.

Pitchers can step off the rubber twice per plate appearance without penalty. The timer resets each time. It also resets if a runner advances. After that, a balk will be called unless an out is recorded on a runner.

Hitters have to be in the box and alert to the pitcher with at least eight seconds remaining. Hitters also get one timeout per plate appearance.

► Bases will be three inches bigger.

The rules are expected to pick up the pace of the game and increase the action in the game.

“A faster pace is never complained about,” Hinch said. “Maybe the pitch clock will help. I don’t know how it’s going to affect veteran players. Old habits die hard. It will be an adjustment for everybody. But after the dust settles, is the game going to be better for it? We are going to find out.”

The pitch timer seems to be causing the most consternation in the Tigers’ room.

“I didn’t think the game needed any changes in that regard,” said veteran reliever Andrew Chafin. “For me personally, it’s not going to matter because I work quickly. But the biggest thing for me: There’s a couple of runners on in the eighth inning in the biggest situation in the game. I’m trying to stall the hitter and read the runners.

“I’m trying to slow the game down like we’ve been taught our entire career. There’s going to be a handful of times when the rules are going to completely and totally change the outcome of the game.”

Catcher Tucker Barnhart expressed the same concern.

“It’s hard for me to get my mind around this,” he said. “It’s Game 7 of the World Series and the outcome is potentially decided on the pitch clock running out. I don’t get it. I don’t think it’s something the game needs. I think what it boils down to is, you don’t buy tickets to the opera and expect a Megadeath show. The reference being baseball is the opera.”

Barnhart said he understands the game is trying to appeal to a younger fan base. But he fears the changes made to appease that audience might impact the game on a larger scale.

“If I were running the show, the last piece of the puzzle would be to affect the product on the field,” he said. “I mean, we are talking about drawing lines in the infield where players can play (banning the shift). My son is playing T-ball and they draw lines on the infield there.

“We are talking about the highest level of baseball in the world and we’re making it gimmicky. I don’t like that.”

More: For Tigers’ Joey Wentz, homecoming start vs. Royals first in a month-long audition

Barnhart is concerned about the pitch timer from a hitter’s point of view, too. Sometimes you can’t just jump back into the batter’s box.

“None of the people that are commenting on the pitch clock have been in the box and been buzzed by a 97-mph fastball,” he said. “You need a second to collect your thoughts, collect yourself and get back in the box. We’re talking about the potential of an at-bat being altered because I’m trying to collect my thoughts after I almost got decapitated.”

The rules do seem to give the umpires some discretion. For example, if a catcher makes the last out of the inning, the umpire can delay the start of the clock to allow him to get the gear on. Presumably, they will also be able to stop or delay the clock for situations like Barnhart referenced.

“The hope is there will be some interpretation of the game and how it needs to be played,” Hinch said. “We want common sense. No one is trying to make it uncomfortable for people. They’re just trying to keep a good pace. … No one is trying to take away the competitiveness of the sport. So there has to be some common sense.”

Banning the shifts didn’t seem to raise much of a fuss. Certainly, the hitters are for it.

“We’re not going to stop positioning,” Hinch said. “We’re going to go to where there next best spot is for the middle infielders. We’re still going to take away the pull-side hole that left-handed hitters complain about.

“Obviously, the depth isn’t going to be the same. So if guys hit it 100 mph there’s a better chance of getting a hit. But it’s not as if we’re going to go back to putting players on a dot. We’re still going to play zone defense.”

All the loopholes and unintended consequences will be flushed out in spring training next year. For now, Hinch is encouraging his players to give it a chance.

“We’re trying to open up offense,” he said. “We are trying to open up action. We want to bring athletes back into the game. We want to make sure our players are featured and algorithms are not. That will be good for everyone.

“Let’s see it before we criticize it.”

As Barnhart said, though, it’s not like the players have any choice. The four players who were on the committee that adopted the changes all voted against them.

“It worries me a lot,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the league can put in whatever rules they want. It’s clear by all the players voting no that they don’t need our approval. But I think when you start doing things that affect the product on the field, I don’t know if there’s been enough thought put into it.

“I hope there are some gray areas. I hope it’s not black and white. When it’s black and white and you start affecting outcomes of games and outcomes of seasons, potentially, that’s where it’s really hard for me to get my head around.”

Said Chafin: “The next thing they are going to do is make the mound flat and move it back 5 feet. That’s what we’re on pace for. That’s where I feel this game is going. We will see how it plays out. We don’t really have any choice in the matter.

“We will just take it in stride and do the best we can.”

Game time change

The game time for Saturday’s game has been changed. Because of the threat of inclement weather later in the evening, the start time is now 4:10 p.m. instead of 7:10 p.m.

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

Tigers at Royals

First pitch: 4:10 p.m. Saturday, Kauffman Stadium, Kanas City, Missouri

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

SCOUTING REPORT

RHP Matt Manning (1-2, 3.86), Tigers: His last start was against this Royals team and it was a grind. He needed 90 pitches to get through four innings. The positive, despite allowing five hits, three walks and a hit batter, he limited the damage to two runs.

RHP Jonathan Heasley (3-7, 4.98), Royals: He went seven strong innings against the Tigers at Comerica Park last Saturday, throwing 52% four-seam fastballs. He had a lively one, too, one inch more vertical break and 20 rpm more spin than usual. Of course, you don’t need to be fancy when you’re working with a 10-run lead, which he was.

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