As spring training is now fully underway, with all teams having their first exhibition games under their belts, it is probably a good time to look at some of the new rules MLB is testing out for spring training.
The first rule that fans have already seen play out in several spring training games so far, is the mercy rule. This rule basically puts a pitch count into play and says teams can choose to stop an inning at the end of an at-bat, once the pitcher has thrown 20 pitches, regardless of where the inning stands.
The Boston Red Sox and Cinncinati Reds are a couple of the first teams to take advantage of this new rule, each getting pitchers out of jams in these early exhibition games. RHP Garrett Richards, for example, was making his first spring training start and managed to load the bases, record one out, and walk in a run within his first 23 pitches. Meanwhile, Reds pitcher Sal Romano also had this new mercy rule to thank — giving up three runs, four hits, and no end in sight — when the Reds decided to call the inning. The next inning welcomed Shane Carle, who gave up four runs with runners still in scoring position when the inning was called.
Another rule facing some scrutiny during baseball’s preseason is a rule that entails games being scheduled for seven innings, but teams have the option to play as few as five innings, or at most, a typical nine innings. The main points of criticism for this rule, in particular, is it limits players who are trying to not only develop their own skills but in many cases, make the big league squad, from getting that crucial playing time. There is also the argument that, while fan attendance is pretty limited for spring training games, fans will not know whether to expect a short five-inning game or if they’re in for a full nine-inning game. This rule is seemingly being put into place mainly amidst COVID-19 concerns and limits the time of contact between players and separate teams.
While most of these rules are upsetting fans, one could argue for both rules that they serve to protect both players and teams, although it does take away from some typical aspects of spring training.