WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Max Scherzer hasn’t been holding back this spring in his criticism of the state of baseball and the various theories and proposals that have been put forth in an attempt to address problem areas. And you can now add the pitch clock to his list of grievances.
Scherzer voiced strong opposition tonight to Major League Baseball’s latest change to improve pace of play, declaring himself “fundamentally against” the pitch clock after experiencing it for the first time during the Nationals’ 7-6, walk-off win over the Astros in both clubs’ Grapefruit League opener.
“I know, as players, that’s something MLB is trying to negotiate,” the three-time Cy Young Award winner said. “I don’t think there’s a negotiation here. As players, it just shouldn’t be in the game. Having a pitch clock - and if you have ball/strike implications - that’s messing with the fabric of the game. There’s no clock in baseball, and there’s no clock in baseball for a reason. So that’s my thoughts.”
MLB has debuted the pitch clock this weekend across Florida and Arizona as something of a trial balloon for spring training. The 20-second clock begins to count down when the pitcher receives the ball back from the catcher following the first pitch of an at-bat and any subsequent pitch that isn’t fouled off. Batters have been instructed to be in the box and ready to hit with at least five seconds remaining, and pitchers have been instructed to begin their windup or to come set out of the stretch before the clock runs out.
There are currently no penalties for infractions, but MLB intends for extra balls and strikes to be called later this spring ... pending the status of negotiations with the players’ union. No decision has been made yet about instituting the clock in the regular season, but the Nationals staff will prepare everyone to deal with it just in case.
“They’re going to enforce the rule,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And we’ve got to abide by it.”
Scherzer’s complaints had nothing to do with his own difficulties keeping up the pace tonight. He consistently began his windup with roughly nine seconds left on the clock, so he was never in danger of committing a violation.
But he admitted the clock, one of which was stationed behind the third base on-deck circle, was distracting to his routine.
“When I’m on the mound, I have tunnel vision (typically) and all I see is the catcher,” he said. “(The clock) is there. I don’t know, now having to actually throw to it, I think it’s more of a distraction than anything. I get that there are parts of the game that we can clean up, and I think there can be meaningful changes, but I’m fundamentally against this.”
Scherzer noted that his two-inning start, in which he surrendered a leadoff homer to Jake Marisnick plus two more singles and a walk while racking up 44 pitches, felt like it dragged. This despite the fact he didn’t come close to running out the clock.
Astros batters did hit nine foul balls in those first two innings, though, and Scherzer felt that was the larger issue, citing a recent article on FiveThirtyEight.com that the number of foul balls in MLB games has increased by nearly 12 percent since 1998.
“You saw the outing. It seemed like it was pretty slow, and I don’t think I once missed the pitch clock, right?” he said. “And it was that slow because there was a lot of foul balls. I think that’s more indicative of what’s slowing the game down, is the foul balls, not the pitch clock.”
The opinion of one player, even a star, may not seem to carry an excessive amount of weight. But Scherzer isn’t just any star. This winter he was named to the Players’ Association Executive Council, so he is intimately involved in negotiations between the union and MLB.
And if tonight was an indication of things to come, Scherzer is going to use his position to argue against this potential rule change.
“I refuse to negotiate this,” he said. “I’m not going to put my name on this clock.”