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Manfred on pitch clock, scheduling, expansion

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Manfred on pitch clock, scheduling, expansion

CINCINNATI — In the six months since he became baseball’s 10th commissioner, Rob Manfred hasn’t been afraid to confront the sport’s time-tested traditions and embrace the idea of change.

And Manfred continued the trend Tuesday during his first-ever All-Star Q&A session with members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, offering up thoughts on pitch clocks, expanded instant replay, shortening the 162-game schedule, adding more teams to the postseason and expanding into new markets.

The commissioner championed the idea of a 20-second pitch clock being added to baseball in future seasons, citing the positive effect it had in improving pace of play in the Arizona Fall League and this year at the Class AA and AAA levels.

“Interestingly, that experiment not only was successful in terms of the pace of the game,” Manfred said. “It was successful in educating those people involving in the process who — for want of a better term — were anti-clock. They went, they saw games, they saw the way the games played along. … We are really encouraged by the results of that experiment, in terms of how it moves the game along. Now, how quickly that experiment, or whether that experiment, migrates to the big-league level, is going to be a product of conversations with the MLBPA. But we remain positive about the 20-second clock as something that could be useful to the game at the big-league level.”

MLB officials may be embracing the idea of a pitch clock, but union chief Tony Clark offered some staunch opposition Tuesday during his own session with BBWAA writers, suggesting this change is far from a certainty.

“Hear me very clear on this one,” Clark said. “When you add the third deck in the major leagues, and you add all the other moving pieces tied to the major-league game, the idea that a particular rule in Double-A or Triple-A or Single-A or the Fall League … will automatically work in the big leagues is not true. The game is fundamentally different. The game is fundamentally faster. There are more considerations that need to be made at the major-league level than at the Single-A level or the Double-A level or the Triple-A level.”

Improved pace of play has been a hallmark of Manfred’s first six months in office, and the new commissioner cited plenty of examples Tuesday of the effect baseball’s new rules have already had. The average time of game is down 9 minutes through the season’s first half, down to 2 hours, 53 minutes, the largest decrease since 1965.

Manfred also discussed the possibility of speeding up the baseball season, with recent calls to move back from a 162-game regular season to the 154-game slate the sport had until 1961. That change will be easier said than done, though, with club owners unlikely to give away gates and revenue just for the sake of a shorter season.

“It’s a huge economic issue,” Manfred said. “If you were going to try to do something in that area … usually if you have a big economic issue where you’re giving up revenue, you’ve got to think up something that is offsetting in the other direction. And the one obvious possibility is making a change in terms of the playoffs. I’m not suggesting we’re anywhere on either of those topics, but I do think if you shorten the season, there will be pressure to look at the postseason as well.”

Manfred said there are no current plans for expansion but acknowledged he does see the sport adding new franchises again “down the road,” and admitted he has a list of viable cities. Montreal has moved back into the news recently after hosting a pair of highly successful exhibition weekends the last two springs, and while Manfred said he believes the former home of the Nationals can be a successful baseball market again, it will require a new stadium and evidence of support for far more than two exhibition games.

The most-controversial topic surrounding these All-Star festivities is the presence of Pete Rose, the banished all-time hit king who will be allowed to take part in pregame festivities along with other Cincinnati Reds legends.

Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1989 by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti for gambling on the sport while managing the Reds, has made a renewed push for reinstatement. Manfred reiterated Tuesday that he expects to meet with Rose at some point to discuss his case, but that meeting has not yet been scheduled.

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Catching up on the Orioles before they come to D.C.

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USA Today Sports Images

Catching up on the Orioles before they come to D.C.

It's not a rivalry, but it's not not a rivalry, either.

For the Nationals, playing the Orioles isn't the same thing as playing the Braves or the Phillies, but it's also not the same thing as playing the Tigers or the Rangers. That is to say, it means something.

For many Nats fans, however, the Capitals' glorious run to the Stanley Cup has drawn attention away from baseball, both in D.C. and around the league.

With the Orioles coming to town to finish off their season series (the Nats swept three games in Baltimore back in May when they had forgotten how to lose on the road), casual fans might be wondering how the DMV's other team is doing in 2018.

Well, if the road sweep didn't give it away, the Orioles have been really bad this season. Like, really, really bad. Like, might-be-picking-first-in-the-2019-draft bad.

So, how did the team that won the most games in the American League from 2012 to 2016 end up as the worst team in baseball in 2018?

There are a few factors we can point to, including some serious regression, bad injury luck, a lack of fundamentals, and a tough schedule. On a macro level, however, there's a clear reason for their struggles. The Orioles, who built their 2010s run behind power hitting and a great bullpen, haven't hit for power and haven't had a good bullpen.

The bullpen woes can partially be traced to injury, as Zach Britton has missed most of the year so far after undergoing surgery on his Achilles during the offseason. 

Britton was unbelievable in 2016, putting together one of the greatest relief seasons in recent memory, but he hasn't been quite right since. He struggled with minor injuries in 2017, which hurt his trade value during discussions at last year's trade deadline, and then he suffered his major injury over the winter.

When a team relies on its bullpen as heavily as the Orioles have in the last half-decade, missing any contributor hurts. Missing the best pitcher on the team hurts a lot, and missing one of the best relievers in the world hurts the most. Everyone else has had to move up a rung on the ladder, and it hasn't gone well.

Brad Brach made the All-Star Game in 2016, but since stepping into the closer's role this year he's struggled. A 3.58 ERA is unsightly for a reliever, and his 1.70 WHIP is among the worst of any closer. 16 walks in 27.2 innings have been a major culprit.

Mychal Givens, once considered an untouchable trade asset, is sporting a career-worst ERA of 4.04, and his and Brach's struggles, combined with Britton's absence, have given the O's a 4.17 ERA among all relievers, 22nd in baseball, and a .263 batting average against, which is next-to-last. They have no power pitchers to speak of, as they're striking out just 8.18 batter per 9 innings, 4th-worst in baseball.

The power has gone out at the plate as well. The Orioles have hit 77 home runs this season, which is good for 17th in baseball. That may not sound too bad, as it's right around the middle of the pack, but that total is buoyed by Manny Machado's MVP-level season. The rest of the team has hit a combined 59 home runs, an abysmal number. 

Until being benched recently, Chris Davis was on pace to record literally the worst single-season Wins Above Replacement total in Major League Baseball history. On his own, Davis is undoing any good done by Machado, and he's getting paid a boatload of money to do so. 

It's especially bad when considering how reliant the team is on long balls. Their team batting average is .228, which is barely better than Bryce Harper's .217 average everyone is freaking out about, and their team on-base percentage is a stunning .294, good for dead last in baseball.

Basically, this team never has baserunners, which means they need home runs to score (41.9% of their runs are scored via homers, which is top-10 in baseball). Considering how few home runs they've hit, it's no surprise they've scored the fewest runs in all of baseball.

So, when you see the Orioles' record is an astonishing 20-50 (for reference, that's seven games worse than the woeful Marlins) and they sit 27.5 games back of first place in the AL East, now you know why. The power is out in Baltimore, and it looks like it won't be coming back for quite some time.

Next time the Nats lose five of six games, fans won't have to look too far up I-95 to remember it could be a whol lot worse.
 

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Soto's 2-run HR lifts Nats past Yanks 5-3 in resumed Game 1

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USA Today Sports

Soto's 2-run HR lifts Nats past Yanks 5-3 in resumed Game 1

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Juan Soto's latest feat: homering in a game played before he made his major league debut.

Huh?

The 19-year-old Soto delivered a tiebreaking, pinch-hit, two-run shot in the sixth inning of a game that began and was suspended because of rain last month, five days before he was called up from the minors for the first time, to lift the Washington Nationals to a 5-3 victory over the New York Yankees in the opener of an unusual doubleheader Monday.

Game 1 resumed with the score 3-all and the Nationals about to bat in the bottom of the sixth. After Bryce Harper -- who had a full beard back on May 15, when the game began, but was clean-shaven this time -- struck out, and Anthony Rendon singled, Soto drove a 97 mph fastball from Chad Green (4-1) to the back of the second deck in right field.

"I thought he had a good chance to hit the ball hard," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "That was hard."

It was Soto's sixth homer since he was brought up from Double-A Harrisburg on May 20 -- and second against the Yankees. Soto stood and admired this one before beginning his trot around the bases.

"A pitch right in his hot zone. Soto got us again," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "Obviously a really good looking player. Two pretty big shots he's hit against us."

Soto also was involved in a double play while playing left in the seventh. Didi Gregorius lined to Soto, and he lobbed the ball to shortstop Trea Turner, who sprinted to second base to double off Gary Sanchez.

Soto's stats -- and all others from Game 1 -- will count as being part of the originally scheduled game on May 15, but Soto's official debut will still be considered on the actual date it happened, according to the Nationals, citing the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I wish he was climbing the ladder more routinely. He should be in about Double-A now," Boone said. "What can you say? Nineteen and obviously doing really well."

Wander Suero (1-0) got the win for 1 1-3 scoreless innings -- one inning on May 15, and one out on Monday.

Sean Doolittle struck out Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and got Gary Sanchez to fly out to center in the ninth for his 18th save.

Game 2, which was completely rained out May 16, was to begin a half-hour after Game 1 finished, with Washington's Erick Fedde facing New York's Sonny Gray.

The Nationals had lost five of six games entering the day.

In the month-plus since the games were supposed to be played, both teams' rosters changed, of course. Aside from Soto's arrival, two position players who started the game for Washington, Howie Kendrick (out for the season with an injury) and Andrew Stevenson (demoted to the minors) are no longer around. For the Yankees, their original starter at first base, Tyler Austin, is in the minors.

Martinez said the closest thing he could compare this situation to was Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, when the Tampa Bay Rays -- he was Joe Maddon's bench coach then -- wound up losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in a contest that began on a Monday, was halted in the sixth inning because of rain, and concluded on a Wednesday.

"It's weird, man," Martinez said.

STREAK ENDS

Another oddity: The loss means the Yankees' streak of winning eight consecutive series now gets retroactively shortened to seven series, because it's as if Game 1 took place entirely on May 15.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Yankees: OF Brett Gardner was not listed in the lineup for Game 2 because an MRI exam showed swelling in his right knee, although Boone said he didn't expect Gardner to go on the DL. ... With Gardner's status uncertain, the Yankees recalled OF Clint Frazier from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre and optioned INF Ronald Torreyes to that minor league affiliate.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson, on the DL for two weeks with a strained right hamstring, took fielding practice before the start of play Monday and said he "felt fine." Hellickson has taken two bullpen sessions and "felt 100 percent," so expects to be able to return soon. ... 1B Matt Adams was "still a little sore" after getting hit by a pitch on a finger Friday.

UP NEXT

The Nationals open a three-game series at home against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday, and Martinez has not yet announced who his starter will be. The Yankees return to New York for a three-game set against Seattle, with RHP Domingo German (1-4, 5.23 ERA) pitching on Tuesday against Mariners LHP Marco Gonzalez (7-3, 3.42).