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Manfred on pitch clock, scheduling, expansion


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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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

For a long time, Major League Baseball had the best, most exciting trade deadline among the four major sports. In recent seasons, that excitement has been eclipsed by the popularity of the NBA, but baseball still stands ahead of football and hockey in terms of in-season movement.

In an effort to shake things up a bit, baseball’s trade deadline underwent some changes in the offseason.

Notably, while July 31 has always been deadline day, in past years it was a bit of a misnomer. July 31 was technically just the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in years past. The month of August has always allowed trades to be made as long as players pass through waivers. If a player is claimed off waivers, his team can either pull him back, let him go for nothing, or negotiate a deal with his claiming team only.

This obviously made for much more limited movement in August, but it was always an option. 

Not anymore. Now? July 31 the *only* deadline.

The August revocable waivers trade deadline was always a bit convoluted, and it never made much sense to have more than one deadline. So it’s logical to think the powers that be would want to simplify things for the league.

Reportedly, Major League Baseball is hoping the change will not only help simplify in-season moves, but also help jumpstart offseason activity. The thinking is if teams have even just one fewer option to improve their roster midseason, then contenders will be forced to get aggressive in the offseason.

It remains to be seen if that will come to fruition, but one forthcoming change does seem pretty obvious. The singular trade deadline should make for a much more active July.

Both buyers and sellers have to commit to a direction earlier in the season now. Last year, for example, the Nationals executed their mini-firesale in mid-August, once it had become clear they were not going to compete for the postseason. At the end of the July they were still undecided, which is why they held onto Bryce Harper.

Considering how long it can take major deals to come together, teams have to essentially decide by the All-Star break if they are in or out on competing for October. It will be especially difficult for teams to read the writing on the wall when they are hovering around .500.

As of this writing, there are 10 teams within six games of .500 in either direction, and that doesn’t include organizations like the Red Sox, Nationals and Athletics who have quality records but are way behind runaway division leaders. Will they want to trade away controllable assets for a shot at a one-game Wild Card berth?

General Managers who can forecast their team’s likelihood of competing, and respond accordingly, will be rewarded under the new system. Orioles GM Mike Elias already began his team’s sell-off, trading Andrew Cashner away weeks before the end of July. By contrast, in 2018 both Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman were moved by the Orioles with under an hour to go on deadline day.

It’s hard to perfectly predict all the ways rule changes can affect a sport, but in the case of the singular trade deadline, it’s obvious that teams are now required to commit earlier, with fewer games of information from which to work.

That’s exciting for a sport that could use some more player movement-related excitement.


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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

ATLANTA—Anibal Sanchez outpitched Mike Soroka and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, Matt Adams homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Saturday night.

Second-place Washington pulled within 5 games of the NL East-leading Braves, improving to 33-14 since May 24, best in the majors over that span. Atlanta has dropped four of five.

Sanchez (6-6) got a big assist in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Trea Turner turned a bases-loaded double play, leaping to nab Nick Markakis' liner and throwing to first to beat Josh Donaldson back to the bag.

Soroka (10-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings. He had won 10 straight decisions, best by an Atlanta pitcher since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had a 10-decision streak in 2001.

Sean Doolittle got the last five outs, facing the minimum, for his 21st save in 25 chances. He struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner at second to end the eighth and breezed through the ninth.

Washington went up 4-1 in the fifth when Sanchez reached on an infield single to third, took second on Donaldson's throwing error and scored on Turner's double. Turner took third on Adam Eaton's single and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Eaton scored on Juan Soto's single.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the eighth off A.J. Minter as Turner singled, stole second and scored on Eaton's single.

Adams went deep for the 15th time, an opposite-field homer that bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and into the stands to tie it at 1-all in the fourth.

Sanchez, who pitched for the Braves last year and helped them win the division, allowed three runs and six hits and has a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

Atlanta led 1-0 in the first when Acuna reached on an infield single, stole second base, advanced on a flyout and scored on Freddie Freeman's single.

Brian McCann's ninth homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, chased Sanchez and cut the lead to 4-3.



NBC Sports Washington's Michael Stearman contributed to this Associated Press story.