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Out of the way! Twins infielders learn new MLB rules to improve safety.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Kyle Farmer confessed his crime on Thursday and gave thanks for the judge's leniency. He knows he'll face punishment if he does it again.

Farmer was playing third base last May 28 when Toronto's Matt Chapman rounded second base on a dribbler in front of the plate and surprised the Twins by heading for third. Farmer was standing in front of the bag when Chapman, and first baseman Joey Gallo's throw, arrived simultaneously. With his path blocked, Chapman made an awkward slide between Farmer's legs as the infielder tagged him out.

"I was just trying to catch the ball, but I was right in there with him," Farmer said. "I kind of got blown up, but he was called out. Now, I guess, you've got to step away and reach back to tag him."

That's the gist of a new interpretation of MLB Rule 6.01(h), which was conveyed to managers in a series of conference calls earlier this week. The MLB is concerned that infielders are preventing runners from reaching bases safely by blocking them, most aggressively when, for example, a shortstop drops his leg in front of the bag on a steal attempt, forcing runners to reach around to the side of the bag.

Starting this year, fielders must give baserunners a clear path to each base, and they will be called for obstruction, with the runner awarded the base, if they don't.

It's a play that Ty Cobb would probably have addressed a century ago by sliding in spikes-up. But baseball understandably doesn't want to encourage such violent remedies, and most runners slide in head-first anyway, putting their hands in danger. "Safety is the No. 1 purpose of this, keeping guys from getting hurt on the bases," Farmer said, "so it's basically a good thing."

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But after taking part in two meetings during Twins camp to address the league's new point of emphasis, Farmer is concerned that the rule will be implemented too strictly. Fielders still have the right to cross in front of the bag if it's necessary to catch the ball or tag the runner — but they can't simply wait there while the ball is in flight.

"You know, sometimes the ball carries you there and you put the tag down and your foot's in the way. And it's like, 'I didn't mean to do it, but I did it.' So it's a very grey area," Farmer said. "I would hope that those who are judging it will judge it on intent. They want us to leave an open lane, and I understand that, but you've still got to make the play."

Such plays will not be reviewable, which means it's up to each umpire to detect potentially illegal obstruction while also focusing on out vs. safe. Manager Rocco Baldelli, happy that managers were consulted on the change, said he supports eliminating the most egregious examples, the intentional and often dangerous blocks, but hopes umpires don't interfere with normal tag plays.

"There are some plays where it's very difficult to tell people what to do to make a good baseball play and to record an out. When throws are low or when throws are skipping, what are you supposed to do to make a play on the ball and also get out of the way of the runner?" Baldelli said. "I'm OK with the umpires having some real judgment in this. And with that judgment, if it's questionable, I'm hoping that most of those are not going to be called."

More rule tweaks

Other rule modifications this season — allowing batters to run just inside the foul line to first base, reducing mound visits from five per team to four, and allowing only 18 seconds between pitches, rather than 20, when runners are on base — have been met with few concerns so far in camp. The Twins occasionally used their mound visits to give tiring pitchers a chance to catch their breath, Baldelli said, but he said the reduction should rarely come into play.

Put down by pull-ups

Pitching coach Pete Maki has been absent from camp for the past two days after rupturing a bicep muscle while doing pull-ups during a workout. The injury required surgery to repair, but Maki is expected back in camp over the next few days.

Lewis gets Messi

Royce Lewis made the 2-hour, 15-minute drive to Miami after Wednesday's workout to watch soccer superstar Lionel Messi and Inter Miami open the MLS season with a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake that night.

"He almost scored a goal, but he was in the middle of both of [Miami's] goals, so it was a lot of fun to watch," the Twins' third baseman said. Is Lewis a big fan of soccer? "I'm a fan of greatness," said.