Jeff BassonESPN5 minutes of reading
San Diego Padres star Manny Machado committed the first pitch clock violation of a spring training game, striking out in the first inning.
Facing Seattle left-hander Robbie Ray on Friday in one of two games that could be a test run of Major League Baseball’s rule change, Machado didn’t bring his left foot into the batter’s box during the clock — which features prominently behind the batter. And over the outfield fence — hurt. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney called time out, his wrist — the signal for a clock violation — pointing: “0-1.”
Machado then singled, his first of two hits on the day.
“That time came quickly,” Machado said after a windy 2 hours, 29 minutes, as did 2:33 of Friday’s other game between the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. “It’s definitely something we’ve got to get used to. It takes your routine out, being there before the pitch and zoning out. The ref gave me a little warning — ‘Hey, you got 2 seconds’ — but when I got there I was already late.”
In last spring’s opener between the Padres and Mariners, there were three more pitching changes, four fewer hits and a game that lasted 59 minutes. Kansas City and Texas faced each other in the 2022 spring opener, used three fewer pitchers, recorded a win and played 44 more minutes.
Pitchers have 15 seconds when the bases are empty and 20 seconds when runners are on base. When the clock expires they are awarded an automatic ball. MLB’s full set of new rules — including a ban on defensive turnovers, pickoff moves and a limit on big bases — were on display for the first time Friday. With all 30 teams scheduled to play on Saturday, Friday’s test drives will hopefully be seen as a new and improved version of the league game.
Machado’s automatic strikeout was one of two violations of the day. Another came in the fifth inning when Texas left-hander John King faced Kansas City first baseman Vinny Pasquantino. At 1-2, King mistimed the ball and the score moved to 2-2. Basquantino eventually walked.
“Honestly, I felt bad for the pitcher because you could see it coming,” Pasquantino said. “So I was kind of waiting. ‘Okay, is this going to happen?’ I was not ready because it was like.
Pasquantino spent half of last season in the minor leagues, where MLB tested the pitch clock at all positions. The league considered the clock the biggest success of all its possible changes, as it cut roughly 25 minutes off average minor league game times.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Machado said. “It’s going to be fun. Who knows where it’s going? There’s going to be a lot of strategy involved.”
Strategic elements go beyond the clock. Basquantino, a left-handed hitter who converted in 93.2% of his plate appearances last season — the seventh highest in MLB, according to Statcast — hit a single through the right side. While Basquantino wasn’t sure the ball would be spoiled by the shift in past seasons, he said the return of the pull hit, which left-handed hitters have no doubt seen, could change their approaches at the plate.
Each game saw a stolen base — the distance between the bases shrank by 4½ inches, the bases expanded from 15 inches square to 18 inches square — and the umpires called no fouls. After a pitcher has two “takeouts” during a plate appearance — a pickoff attempt or a step-off — the third that is not an out is dismissed.
But the clock drew most of the attention from managers, hitters and pitchers. “I saw it a couple of times, but after the first inning, when I thought I didn’t have enough time, I saw it — I had 12 seconds left,” Royals starter Daniel Lynch said.
“Guys get a little tired working at this pace,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “Whether it’s starters or relievers throwing a lot of pitches, there’s going to be an endurance factor.”
“It takes pitchers three or four outings to get used to it,” Pasquantino said. “And as far as hitters go, I think it’s going to be four or five games where everybody’s rolling. I think the key is that the umpires are strict on that and they were today.”
The only snafu in the Kansas City-Texas game? On one pitch, Royals reliever Josh Stamont said the two clocks behind home plate were showing different numbers.
“It’s Day 1 of spring training for the clock,” Basquantino said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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