Sources: MLB, players union making progress on possible pace-of-play rule tweaks for 2015

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have made progress in discussions on pace of play, increasing the chances of rule modifications for the 2015 season, industry sources said.

The commissioner’s office believes quickening baseball’s rhythm is essential to the sport’s growth among young fans; the rollout of multiple pace-of-play measures during the 2014 Arizona Fall League reflected how seriously MLB officials regard the issue.

The players’ union does not seem as concerned, but sources say the MLBPA is willing to work with MLB on minor changes. Both sides appear comfortable with resuming play as soon as television broadcasts return from commercial — a concept that would not impact game play after each half-inning begins.

The MLB rulebook already includes regulations about staying in the batter’s box between pitches and the amount of time it takes a pitcher to deliver the ball. However, that language likely would need to be altered to enable stricter enforcement.

For example, a comment to Rule 6.02(b) reads, in part: “The batter is not at liberty to step in and out of the batter’s box at will . . . Umpires may grant a hitter’s request for Time once he is in the batter’s box, but the umpire should eliminate hitters walking out of the batter’s box without reason. If umpires are not lenient, batters will understand that they are in the batter’s box and they must remain there until the ball is pitched.”

At present, though, MLB rules do not specifically mandate that the hitter keep one foot in the batter’s box, as is the case in the minor leagues.

AROUND THE HORN

Similarly, according to Rule 8.04, pitchers must release the ball toward home plate within 12 seconds of receiving it when the bases are empty. Otherwise, the umpire is supposed to call a ball. (The 12-second countdown begins when the batter is in the box and “alert to the pitcher,” so the elements are very much interrelated.)

But that rule, as currently written, resets if the hitter steps out of the box and does not apply when there are runners on base.

One way or the other, a resolution is expected relatively soon. Pitchers and catchers report next week, and Grapefruit and Cactus league games begin in less than three weeks. If changes are made, managers, coaches and players will want to use the full slate of spring training games as an adjustment period.