Manfred pleased with improving pace of play

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NEW YORK — Major League Baseball instituted new rules to increase the pace of play in 2018, and so far, the results have been positive.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking at the conclusion of the Owners Meetings at MLB’s offices in midtown Manhattan, seemed encouraged by the improved pace of this season’s games.

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball instituted new rules to increase the pace of play in 2018, and so far, the results have been positive.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking at the conclusion of the Owners Meetings at MLB’s offices in midtown Manhattan, seemed encouraged by the improved pace of this season’s games.

MLB introduced a new rule in February limiting teams to six mound visits without a pitching change per game, and also shortened between-inning breaks and pitching changes.

Through Wednesday’s games, the average nine-inning game was 2:59:49, down from 3:05:11 for the 2017 season. Teams were averaging 3.92 mound visits combined in 2018, down from 7.41 last season.

“Our mound visits are down 47 percent, and as close as I can tell, we’ve been able to play all the games without a mound-related incident despite predictions to the contrary,” Manfred said. “I think that’s a positive.”

While the rules changes have had the desired effect, Manfred believes that the league’s focus on pace of play has had its own impact on players.

“One of the things that happens when you make rule changes in the pace-of-game area — put the actual change to one side — it puts pace in the front of people’s minds,” Manfred said. “We think some of what we’re seeing is just players playing faster.”

Pace-of-play was just one of a number of topics during Thursday’s 20-minute session with reporters. Here are some other highlights:

• The competition committee discussed the use of defensive shifts, and while there is little doubt that the strategy has had an impact on the game, the league is not ready to make any changes to the rules just yet.

“We’re in the discussion/analysis phase on that topic, not the decision phase,” Manfred said. “I think we would like to continue the momentum on pace of game, but I also think that the committee is talking about how the game is being played on the field, certain trends that there’s been a lot of commentary about and whether it’s time for us to manage those trends a little more aggressively.”

Manfred said that while there is evidence to support the idea that shifts have affected batting averages, there have also been published reports suggesting that walks may be increasing as a result of shifts, which the Commissioner called “an offsetting trend.”

“This demonstrates the difficulty of trying to make rule changes and expecting that those rule changes are going to produce a particular outcome on the field,” Manfred said. “Take shifts; when they came, it was common thought that people were going to learn to go the other way. The fact of the matter is, the human element took over and what they decided to do was go over the top instead of going the other way. The outcomes of these rules changes are uncertain. We want to proceed judiciously, but I also think we want to proceed.”

• The schedule was also discussed at the meetings, as Manfred said the league is “working hard and doing a better job at producing a schedule that’s fan-friendly and maximizes the opportunities available to the individual clubs in terms of marketing their games to fans.”

Prime Interleague games appear to be at the forefront of those changes, as marquee matchups such as Yankees-Mets, Angels-Dodgers and Giants-Athletics could see their two-game sets moved to more appealing weekend slots.

“We obviously have been reluctant because of scheduling traditions to do a two-game series on a weekend, even if it’s one of our prime rivalries,” Manfred said. “That’s something I think you will see in the future. If it’s our biggest games, [with] a little flexibility and hard work, maybe you can put them on the two days when most people are interested in seeing them.”

• The designated hitter continues to be a subject of much debate, and this week’s meetings were no different. Manfred said “dialogue actually probably moved a little bit,” though it appears that no changes are in store in the immediate future.

“We have a core of National League owners that prefer the National League game, there’s no question about it,” Manfred said. “I don’t think anybody likes pitchers getting hurt, and I don’t think even the people that like the National League game see pitchers hitting .113 as a positive, either. The DH is one of those topics that you never quite put to bed. It is a continuing source of conversation among the ownership group.”

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.