First came a limit on mound visits. Then, shortened breaks between innings. Next year, pitchers will be forced to face at least three batters, the better to reduce pitching changes, and some day, Major League Baseball may yet foist a pitch clock on its timeless game.
Yet as another regular season grinds to a close, MLB’s well-intentioned efforts at increasing pace of play and reducing time of game look more and more like acts of futility.
Oh, a nip here and a tuck there and the specter of penalizing players for slow play, like golf, certainly helps. But in an era where there’s a significant shortage of pitching, a hopped-up baseball and an overload of information that makes every pitch a well-litigated act, it’s nearly impossible to contain a game within a TV-friendly three-hour window.
“They want to make the game faster, but in this offensive environment, it’s not going to happen,” Washington Nationals reliever Daniel Hudson tells USA TODAY Sports. “You can kind of speed through the first four or five innings, but once you get the two bullpens in there and get into a (game-deciding) situation in the eighth or ninth inning, you want to make sure you’re on the same page as everyone around you.
“If that means I have to step off and get the signs right, or get the defense aligned, it’s just how it’s going to be.”
The average time of a nine-inning game has once again reached 3 hours and 5 minutes, equaling the mark set in 2017, when a record 6,105 home runs were hit across the major leagues.
MLB and the players’ association responded in 2018 by limiting to six the number of mound visits per game, eliminating almost all the time-sucking klatches among pitchers, catchers and infielders. And time of game ticked back down to three hours.