When the Quad-Cities River Bandits find themselves in an extra-innings game this season, it won’t be baseball as usual at Modern Woodmen Park.
Midwest League teams are among 160 minor-league teams at all levels that will participate in rule changes designed to reduce the length of extra-inning games and quicken the pace of play beginning with the first pitch of the new season next month.
"This is something that has been brought up at the national level over the past two, three off-seasons and has gained some traction. It will be different," River Bandits general manager Andrew Chesser said.
Minor League Baseball, the governing body of the minors, worked with Major League Baseball in designing procedures announced Wednesday that are expected to reduce the number of pitchers used in extra-inning games and lessen issues created by those games.
Beginning this season at all levels of the minors, all extra innings will begin with a runner on second base in an effort to create more offensive opportunities and potentially reduce the chances for additional extra innings.
The runner positioned at second will be the player in the batting order position immediately in front of the leadoff batter of the inning. A pinch runner can be inserted into the lineup at that point, but as has been the case in the past, no player who has been taken out of the game will be allowed to return.
The runner placed on second base will not factor into earned runs charged to a pitcher in that situation.
Rookie-level short season leagues experimented with that rule change last season.
It is designed to not only reduce the number of pitchers used in a game but to cut down on the number of teams facing shortages of pitchers in games following a lengthy extra-inning game, trim the number of position players being used as pitchers and reduce roster moves made because of pitcher shortages caused by extra-inning games.
"A lot of it is centered on not putting additional stress on young arms," Chesser said. "That has been a common concern in player development in recent years."
Chesser understands that baseball purists may not like the change but said the number of fans leaving stadiums as games enter into extra innings also spoke to the need to do something to shorten games.
Toward that objective, limitations will also be placed on mound visits by either coaches or position players beginning this season.
At the Class A level, which includes Midwest League affiliates in the Quad-Cities and Clinton, mound visits will be limited to 10 per team per game. Those numbers will be reduced to eight at the AA level and six at the AAA level, and the number remains the same whether the game is scheduled for seven or nine innings.
If a game extends into extra innings, one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning will be allowed.
One rule change being implemented at the AA and AAA level but not at the A level is the use of a 15-second pitch timer, which requires pitchers at those levels to begin their wind-up or motion to the set position within 15 seconds when no runners are on base.
When runners are on base and the pitcher, catcher and batter are in their respective circles, the pitch timer goes to 20 seconds.
"All of the changes are being made in hopes of speeding up games," Chesser said. "There is a concern that starts at the major-league level and works on down that games take too long. These changes, which will be reviewed after the season, are designed to pick up the pace and hopefully shorten games."