Why some MLB pitchers want time added to the pitch clock — and why it should stay as is
NEW YORK — The early results of Major League Baseball’s new pitch-clock era have made both fans and players happy — the latter, to an extent.
The games are proving to be shorter, averaging 2:38 per contest through the opening weekend of the season. It marks a 30-minute drop from last year’s first four days, a difference that has been gladly received, even embraced, by most.
“I might have felt rushed a few times yesterday, but not to where I got super uncomfortable with it,” Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes said Tuesday, one day after his 2023 debut. “And getting out of there in two hours and 40 minutes was a huge plus.”
Most importantly, baseball is as dynamic as it has been in decades. Constant activity trumps taking a nap from the third inning to the seventh. Maybe your grandparents are rattled by all the drama they missed while their siestas took precedence, but for the rest of us, the quicker pace has made it harder to take our eyes off the game in fear of missing a great play. Led by the pitch clock, MLB’s new rules have undeniably made the sport more entertaining.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone believes shorter games can also lead to improved player health. It’s tough to substantiate that thinking less than a week into the regular season, but there’s logic in the idea that players will be more durable long-term when they don’t spend as much time on their feet. The clock already projects to shave off about three hours of game time weekly — or, more than a game’s worth per week. In a sport that has 26 weeks in the regular season alone, that’s a lot of extra time for players to enjoy doing something else; something less demanding and exhausting than sprinting around the bases or shoving triple-digit fastballs.
“The results of that, I think are going to be really good for our product and for players and player health,” Boone explained. “It could be, you add up the time off their feet, on the bus, in a hotel room, in bed, whatever it may be. You keep knocking off 20, 25, 30 minutes 162 times, I mean that’s a lot of time that hopefully serves the players well not only for the course of their season but the course of their career.”
More action? Great. Quicker pace? Fantastic. But it’s not all pixie dust and fairy tales for everyone.
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Let’s revisit Cortes’ take on the pitch clock. For now, the overall quickness of the game outweighs any pitch-clock related trouble Cortes might experience on the mound. But he’s not sure if that outlook will hold up over the course of the season. Monday night against the Phillies was his first start of the year, and his first time working with the pitch timer in the regular season. Looking at Cortes’ final line — one earned run allowed on seven hits over five innings with no walks and three strikeouts — it was a solid performance, against the reigning National League champions, no less.
Though it won’t show up in the box score, there were a handful of times throughout those five innings when Cortes was adversely impacted by the clock. At one point, the southpaw looked up and saw that the timer was at three seconds. At that moment, Cortes knew he had to throw whatever sign catcher Jose Trevino was putting down. In that rushed sequence, the pitch location could suffer and lead to a disastrous result. If Cortes doesn’t make the pitch in time, the pitch violation would result in a ball. Cortes described that scrambling sequence as “trying to dodge a bullet.” The bullet, of course, being a walk, hit or home run.
“At different scenarios in the game,” Cortes said. “Maybe having a runner on. Maybe you got two strikes on a guy, and he’s already seen a couple of your pitches, and you’re trying to think, ‘OK maybe I can throw him this and set him up for the next pitch or just go right after him.’ And I caught myself a few times yesterday thinking, OK, I just threw the pitch, and I’m getting the ball back from Trevino, and I see the clock going :13, :12, :11, :10. I’m trying to think, and I’m trying to execute and compete. I would say I caught myself doing that three to four times yesterday.”
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Cortes is certainly not the only starting pitcher expressing dissatisfaction at feeling rushed because of the clock. Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler detailed another scenario in which he looked up to see just four seconds remaining on the timer and was forced to throw whatever pitch catcher J.T. Realmuto called. Wheeler, who allowed four runs in 4.1 innings in his opening start, said he can almost expect lousy locations on those pitches where he feels rushed. Just a tad more time, he believes, would lead to better execution.
“Adding 2-3 seconds won’t change the time of the game that much,” Wheeler contested. “But it would be night and day for us.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred is open to feedback from players, which could lead to in-season changes, but adding 2-3 more seconds to the pitch clock is actually a big ask. Simply changing the time between pitches from 15 seconds (what it is now without runners on) to 17 seconds (what some pitchers are proposing) could add roughly 15-20 minutes to the game. Suddenly, the encouraging two-hour, 38-minute contests would revert to near three hours.
Mets right-hander Carlos Carrasco struggled with the pitch clock as well this past week. He even received a violation before stepping onto the mound, starting his first at-bat with a 1-0 count prior to throwing a single pitch. In Carrasco’s case, his fastball velocity also dipped as his start went on. Afterward, the veteran admitted his stamina was affected by the quick pace as he became fatigued toward the end of his four-inning, five-run, 96-pitch outing.
“It is crazy,” Carrasco told reporters. “I only have 15 seconds.”
Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu argued hitters can also struggle with the timer. When a pitcher is throwing well, LeMahieu can’t step out of the box or call timeout as much as he used to in an effort to throw the pitcher off his game. There are fewer opportunities for hitters to mess with the pitcher’s rhythm under these rules.
So, what should we make of all this? It’s still possible we could see changes from MLB, particularly in the warmer summer months. If Carrasco thought his first start challenged his stamina, just wait for a hot afternoon game in Atlanta. Pitchers’ endurance will certainly be tested during the sweat-drenched days of high humidity and blazing temperatures in July and August.
But the likely scenario could very well be no more modifications to the pitch clock, largely because the early results have been such a success. At least from the onset, it makes more sense for the pitchers who feel rushed to find a way around it, or plainly get used to it.
The timer will force players to adjust to a different, faster style of play than when they first came on the scene, and it’s possible some players simply don’t survive this era. There are certainly pitchers who are more equipped to handle the adjustments than others, never needing that time to walk around the mound and take a breather. They’re used to working fast. The ones who lack stamina and tempo might have to find new routines.
Their time will be better spent adapting than resisting. Players would benefit from leaning on the advice of a certain four-time Manager of the Year, the only skipper to win that award in four different decades. Despite his team setting an early record for most pitch-clock violations (four) in a game Monday, Mets manager Buck Showalter advised his club to look in the mirror.
“You better figure it out,” Showalter asserted, “because it’s not going away.”
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for 3.5 seasons as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. She never misses a Rafael Nadal match, no matter what country and time zone he’s playing in. Sleep can always be sacrificed for sports. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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