Reviewing some of the new replay rules

VIERA, Fla. - After he was done running Friday's workout and taking part in all of his normal daily meetings with his coaching staff, Nationals manager Matt Williams took the hour-long drive to Kissimmee for another meeting.

This one was with Major League Baseball officials, and was held to instruct Williams as well as a few other managers on the new video replay rules that will be put into place this season.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, Astros manager Bo Porter and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus were also present for the 2 1/2-hour meeting, as were members of their staffs. In addition to Williams, the Nats sent bench coach Randy Knorr, defensive coordination and advance coach Mark Weidemaier, their video guys and members of their front office.

Yesterday afternoon, Williams discussed various aspects of the meeting with reporters, and it turned into a very interesting half-hour chat about the different rules that we'll see added this season and how managers will be tasked with massaging these rules to their advantage.

Each team will get five spring training games to practice the challenge system before the regular season begins. The official literature about the new rules will be released sometime in the coming days, but here are some of the key takeaways I got from our chat with Williams about the replay rules:

* At the start of a game, managers will be given one challenge that they can use any time until the end of the sixth inning. If they get that challenge correct, they'll get one more. But after the completion of the sixth inning, all reviews must be initiated by the umpires, even if a team still has a challenge remaining. Regardless of how long a game goes (say, one goes 18 innings), the umpires are the only ones who can initiate video replay after the sixth inning. This could, in theory, make those long extra-inning games even longer, if there are a number of close calls that need to be reviewed.

* While the umpires must initiate all challenges after the sixth inning, managers can go out and argue and request that the umpires go look at a call again. But the decision on whether to do so will be at the umpires' discretion.

* There is a timing element to when managers can challenge a call. Challenges must be made within a certain time frame in some situations (like, say, when a pitching change is made, the manager must say that he wants to challenge the previous play before the new pitcher leaves the bullpen), but managers will also be able to finagle the rules in some ways. They can go out to argue a call, and then look back at their dugout to get word on whether they should use a challenge or not. The decision to challenge doesn't need to be made as soon as the manager leaves the dugout.

* There will be a new phone line that will be added to all major league dugouts, home and road, specifically to aid with the challenge system. Teams will also decide where they want MLB to install a video system into their clubhouse (the Nats are installing it in their existing video room so that players in the dugout aren't crowding around a TV in the tunnel giving contrasting advice on whether to challenge or not) and a team staffer will use the new phone line to alert the dugout when a challenge should be used. If one team's video system or phone line goes down during a game, the other team will need to shut theirs down, as well, similar to the bullpen phone system.

* Plays that are not challengeable include balls and strikes, fair or foul calls on balls that are grounded over the bag, the standard neighborhood play at second base (unless one team feels a bad throw pulled the middle infielder off the bag) and safe or out calls on line drives within the infield. To expand on that last one, reviews are allowed when one team thinks an outfielder trapped a ball (or that he caught it before it hit the turf), but such plays are not reviewable in the infield.

* Like in the NFL, if replay does not give indisputable video evidence that the call on the field was incorrect, the call will not be overturned. That same standard of proof will apply in the MLB replay rules.

* The umpires on the field will not be the ones making the decisions on whether replay will overturn the call on the field or not. Those decisions all will be handled out of a new league video office, where actual MLB umpires will work shifts and have access to live video of all games. When a play is challenged, the umpires in the office will go over the video while the umpires on the field wait for a decision. The crew chief and the umpire who made the call on the field will be on headsets behind home plate talking with the umpires in the league office, but they won't be looking at video themselves, like NFL referees do.

* Video will be shown on the JumboTron throughout the stadium during reviews, so fans can see different angles of the play, as well.

It might seem like we'll be getting tons of challenges every night, slowing the game down, but Williams says MLB has informed managers that won't necessarily be the case.

"They've got all the statistics, and I'm sure you guys have seen them, (about) the number of challengeable calls as they reviewed last year's games," Williams said. "The frequency is not ... it's not twice an inning, by any stretch. So I don't anticipate it making a huge difference."

There will surely be some kinks along the way, but it should be very interesting to see this new system get implemented on the fly.

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