MLB health-and-safety rules bringing changes to spring games originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Cactus League games could look a little different this spring as Major League Baseball attempts to safely stage spring training in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, who reported on the health-and-safety agreement between the league and the MLB Players Association, spring training games could be routinely shortened, depending on how much work the two managers want their players to get in on a given day. Additionally, innings won't even require three outs be recorded, at least at the outset of the spring schedule, and pitchers will be able to be re-inserted into games, the sport's substitution rules thrown out the window during the exhibition season.
Anyone who watched intrasquad games last summer will recognize these rule changes as similar. And though it might ruffle the feathers of certain at-home viewers used to treating spring games like the real thing, the rule tweaks make sense when you consider players should be spending as little time around one another as possible at a time when social distancing is still being encouraged to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
More specifically, per Rosenthal's report, spring games played between Feb. 27 and March 13 are permitted to be shortened to seven or even five innings if both managers agree to do so. So when the White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers get together for their scheduled Cactus League opener Feb. 27 at Camelback Ranch, should Tony La Russa and Craig Counsell agree to play only five innings that day, that's how long the game will last.
During those five innings, as with all games played between Feb. 27 and March 13, three outs will not be necessary to end a half inning, as long as 20 pitches have been thrown. We saw that in action during intrasquad play last summer, when innings would end before the third out, as long as the pitcher got their scheduled work in. Sometimes quick 1-2-3 innings would be extended to a fourth out to allow for the pitcher to get more work in against opposing hitters.
Spring games after March 13 will be nine-inning games, though these, too, can be shortened to seven innings should the managers agree to do so. That "don't need to get three outs" business will be jettisoned starting March 14, as well.
Throughout the spring, substitution rules will be "relaxed," with players and pitchers allowed to re-enter games should the managers so decide.
It might make for some bizarre-looking afternoons at the ballpark over the next couple months, but spring training, even under normal circumstances, is all about getting players in shape for the six-month marathon that is the regular season. Allowing them to get their necessary work in without a mandatory four-hour game attached is far from the worst thing considering these games don't count.
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