Last year during spring training Indians manager Terry Francona was a little leery about how instant replay would end up working. By the end of the season, he had grown to be a supporter of it.
When it comes to the pace of game initiatives that were introduced on Friday by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, Francona didn’t wait long to give his opinion.
"I think I’m a fan of what they’re trying to do," Francona told reporters on Friday. "The way they explained, it changes the culture. You are going to see some hiccups but as we’ve kind of noticed about these changes, MLB has done a good job of explaining things and the umpires have been patient too."
Among the initiatives and points of emphasis this season:
Enforcing the batter’s box rule which requires that all batters keep at least one foot in the batter’s box unless one of a group of exceptions occurs such as swinging at a pitch, being forced out of the batter’s box by a pitch, a wild pitch or passed ball or the pitcher leaving the dirt area of the mound after receiving the ball.
The other major change, which Francona likes, is the addition of timers that will measure non-game action plus break time between innings and pitching changes. One timer will be installed on or near the outfield scoreboard and another will be on the faÃ§ade behind home plate and near the press box. The breaks between innings will be 2 minutes, 25 seconds for locally-televised games and 2:45 for games nationally televised.
The pitcher will throw his final warm-up pitch at the 30-second mark and the batter must enter the batter’s box anywhere from 20-5 seconds remaining. The pitcher is expected to begin his throwing motion as soon as the batter gets into the batter’s box and becomes alert to the pitcher.
"They spent a lot of time researching this. You hope you don’t see personalities clash because you want to see a well-played game," Francona said. "The clock will make it easier for pitchers. Once they know the clock hits zero it is time to be ready to go."
Another change is that instant replay challenges can be initiated from the dugout instead of the manager coming out to talk to the umpire. Francona said he wasn’t a big fan of running out on the field every challenge because he thought there were times when it might have looked disrespectful to the umpire.
MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre is expected to be at the Indians complex on Saturday. Torre and new MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred will address the media on Monday during Cactus League media day.
Francona also told reporters he was pleased with how the first day of pitcher and catcher workouts went. At the end of the workout, the pitchers had an endurance test where the final three survivors were Ryan Merritt, Nick Hagadone and Zach McAllister. Hagadone ended up winning. The left-hander’s reward was a friendly "way to go" from Francona.
"You can see why we brag on our guys so much. Even guys like (Scott) Downs. He’s not a pup but he’s out there running. We didn’t have to pull teeth," Francona said. "It is nice to get everyone together in uniform and do organized drills along with seeing the new personalities and how they react on the field. This is the time of year where I understand for a segment it is game on because they are competing for spots, but if you aren’t enjoying this now you are missing the boat."