JUPITER, Fla. (AP) The Miami Marlins needed barely two hours to win their 2013 season finale, in part because their pitcher threw a no-hitter.
That’s one way to speed up the pace of play.
But the other games during Miami’s last homestand were also low-scoring and tended to drag, with several taking around three hours.
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That’s too long, says team president David Samson. Win or lose, he wants the Marlins to do it faster this year.
”Pace of game is about our fans,” Samson says. ”It’s very much a TV issue and an in-game experience issue. No one is complaining about pace of game where it goes 12 innings and it’s three hours and 20 minutes and it’s a 5-4 game. That’s not the issue. If it’s a 3-1 nine-inning game that goes three hours and 12 minutes, that’s not enjoyable.”
Games at Marlins Park last year took an average of 2:56, which tied with Kansas City for second-fastest in the majors, behind Toronto’s 2:55, according to STATS. Houston was slowest at 3:15.
Instant replay may further bog things down, but Samson believes the Marlins can play more quickly. He’d like to get under 2:40.
”My hope is that we lower our average game time from last year to this year, and that we have the highest-percentage decrease of any team,” he says.
Plodding play isn’t the reason the Marlins ranked last in the NL in attendance in 2013. They lost 100 games with the worst offense in the majors and finished at the bottom of the NL East standings for the third consecutive year.
With a young, talented pitching rotation and turnover in half of the starting lineup, Miami expects to be better this year. But a competitive team would be easier to market if games go more quickly, Samson says.
”If we want to engage fans 18 to 49, we have to play faster,” he says. ”We’re not going to put up with 3 1/2-hour games. Our fans don’t want it.”
Samson says he has talked with manager Mike Redmond about picking up the pace, and plans to make sure the team is aware of the goal. When a player dawdles at the plate, on the mound or entering a game from the bullpen, the matter will be addressed, Samson says.
”It’s not a disciplinary issue, but we want an awareness,” Samson says. ”People don’t talk about it. I don’t know why.
”Often from players you hear, `I don’t realize I’m doing that.’ Or, `Does what I do really matter?’ I’ll tell the player, `I agree, your 10 seconds in the scheme of things is nothing. But a locker over and two lockers over and six lockers over, it’s all 10 seconds. And that’s a minute.’ … If you can take two to three minutes off the average game, that’s a huge step.”
Samson might be right about resistance to his initiative. Closer Steve Cishek chuckles when asked about making pitching changes snappier.
”I don’t know. I run in pretty fast,” Cishek says. ”I don’t know if I have any more gears in me.”
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia says he’s not watching the clock when he’s behind the plate. He spent last season with the Boston Red Sox, who played the second-slowest home games in the majors.
They also won the World Series.
”Pace of the game is big, but there are two ways of going about it,” Saltalamacchia says. ”When the game starts to speed up, especially for younger guys, you need to learn how to slow the game down. If it takes four hours to get the game over with and we end with a win, I’m assuming we’re going to be a lot happier than with a one-hour, 30-minute loss.”
New players’ union head Tony Clark says the lack of a clock is part of what makes baseball special. But he says the union does want to keep games moving, and the Marlins’ talented young pitching rotation might do just that.
”My guess is, based on some of the arms they could put on the bump on any particular day, those games could be relatively short,” Clark says.
Redmond says nobody wants four-hour marathons, and everyone recognizes the appeal of a briskly played game. But he agrees with Saltalamacchia that slowing things down can be a useful tactic when your pitcher is struggling.
And the standings are determined by wins and losses, not by time of game.
”Hopefully we win 5-1 and play the fastest games in the league,” Redmond says. ”Believe me, I’d love to wrap up a win in two hours.”