Managers resigned to - but slow to warm to - new rule for relief pitchers

SAN DIEGO - Angels manager Joe Maddon likes the idea of quickening the pace of the game. He doesn’t like the idea of making relievers pitch to three batters or finish an inning before coming out of the game, a rule that Commissioner Rob Manfred might implement for 2020.

“I don’t like it. I haven’t liked it from the beginning,” Maddon said during his Winter Meetings press conference. “I don’t quite get it. I’m all for messing with the pace of the game. I think that’s important.

“The thing I would never interfere with is strategy, and to me that (three-batter minimum) interferes with strategy, and that’s the part I don’t like. Pace and length of the game, I think, are interconnected, but strategy is sacred.

“Anything that deals with strategy, I’m not into it. Anything that deals with pace, I’m into it.”

Manfred wants to cut the pace of game and he’s been saying that he wants the rule in place. He has the power to implement the rule unilaterally, but he wants approval from the players’ union.

It’s one of the issues that Manfred is talking about with union representatives. And he doesn’t have to be in a hurry. He doesn’t have to make a decision until the first exhibition game in spring training.

So no one is sure if the rule will happen.

Major League Baseball games averaged 3 hours, 5 minutes and 35 seconds in 2019, setting a new record for time of game. The old record was 3:05:11 in 2017.

The average time in 2018 was 3:00:44, compared to 2:45 in 2005.

Managers, though, have issues changing relief-pitching strategy in hopes of making the game go faster.

Nationals manager Davey Martinez said he’s preparing for the possible rule change, but says there is a fine line that could injure a player: “If a pitcher’s struggling and he can get to three hitters and he’s got 37 pitches, it’s going to be hard. I’m hoping that nobody, because of the rule, gets hurt.”

New Phillies manager Joe Girardi says that if the new rule is implemented, it can affect how he puts together a lineup. If an opposing team has a left-handed pitcher that is efficient at getting left-handed hitters out, you surround him with two beasts that are right-handed hitters.

But Girardi also had concerns about choosing late-inning relievers: “The thing that concerned me about it is you’re in a game where you don’t want to maybe use your eighth-inning guy or your closer, and you bring in someone that he is not used to pitching in the eighth or ninth inning and they walk the first two hitters and you can’t change?

“The importance of winning that game is obviously important as we see how many divisions are determined by one game, how many wild card spots are determined by one game.”

Rangers manager Chris Woodward said that if the new rule is implemented, it will present tricky situations. He said it will not affect how a reliever starts an inning, but a mid-inning situation could be problematic.

“You bring in a guy with two outs, you’re hoping this guy gets out,” Woodward said. “The guy gets a flare for a hit, next guy is a lefty - OK, I can get through that guy, but the guy after that, significant right-handed hitter.

He said his bullpen pitchers aren’t made up of left- and right-handed pitchers that can only get lefties or right-handers out. But he knows there are other teams that are going to be at a disadvantage.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora thinks the new rule isn’t that big of a deal. He says the Red Sox have left- and right-handed relievers that have regular success against left- and right-handed batters.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect us that much. We don’t mix and match that much,” Cora said. “Our lefties, they’re pretty solid.”

Rule or not, the Athletics are preparing. Their manager, Bob Melvin, said that anticipation of the rule is part of the reason the team signed lefty reliever Jake Diekman. Melvin said that Diekman has good numbers against right- and left-handed batters.

Melvin’s not sure if the rule will be there or not when spring training starts.

“It’s an adjustment that you’re going to have to make,” Melvin said. “If that’s what they throw at us, that is what they throw at us. If it comes our way, we will deal with it. Everybody has their eye on it.”

But does Melvin like it?

“Whether I like it or not,” Melvin said, “it doesn’t matter.”