If spring training is any indication, MLB umpires are going to be as strict as anyone could have imagined with the league's new pitch clock.
One day after San Diego Padres star Manny Machado became the first player to fall victim to the omnipresent countdown, Atlanta Braves minor-leaguer Cal Conley learned that umps will enforce the pitch clock in even the highest-leverage situations.
On Saturday, Conley was up to bat with the bases loaded, two outs and a full count in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game against the Boston Red Sox — the classic, all-or-nothing baseball scenario. Unfortunately for Conley, he apparently didn't get ready in the batter's box in time, which led to an automatic, inning-ending strike three.
The 23-year-old infielder couldn't believe what happened.
Oh my god they called an Automatic Strike on Conley and it ends the inning pic.twitter.com/rovbfB2p1j
— Mr Matthew CFB (@MrMatthewCFB) February 25, 2023
Because it's spring training, that anticlimactic out meant the end of the game, rather than extra innings. The two teams tied 6-6.
Batters need to be ready for pitch with eight seconds left on the pitch clock
Under MLB's new rules, pitchers get 15 seconds from the time they receive the ball to start their deliveries with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base. Batters, meanwhile, have to be not just in the box but also ready for the pitch with eight seconds left, meaning Conley had 12 seconds from the time Red Sox pitcher Robert Kwiatkowski caught the ball.
It's becoming increasingly clear that MLB is intent on enforcing its new rules — which include a ban on certain shifts, limits on pick-off attempts and bigger bases — with little wiggle room. That likely means there will be plenty more mishaps over the next few months as players get used to the rules, and you can only wonder what will happen when a division race or playoff series takes a turn because of them.