TORONTO — Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is encouraged by pace-of-play changes that have limited mound visits and reduced the time between innings at major league games this season.
Speaking in Toronto on Tuesday before the Blue Jays hosted the Boston Red Sox, Manfred said the new rules have sped up games without any disruption. Mound visits without pitching changes averaged 3.79 per game through Sunday, down from 7.41 for the 2017 season.
"Whenever you change a rule in baseball, people predict all sorts of dire outcomes, and we have avoided even the smallest of incidents related either to the mound visit rule or the shorter inning breaks," Manfred said Tuesday. "Secondly, I'm positive about them because they've been effective. We are way down in terms of mound visits, I think down about 50 per cent , and our inning breaks are significantly shorter. I take both of those as positives in an ongoing effort to make sure that we're producing an entertainment product with as little dead time as possible."
Manfred is a proponent of the pitch clocks currently in use in the minor leagues, but said he was "not in a position where I'm going to say for certain whether or not we're going to have pitch clocks at the big league level." The players' association refused to agree to pitch clocks, and Manfred backed off of his threat to unilaterally implement them this year.
The commissioner also spoke about the number of games postponed by poor weather so far. Games in Baltimore and Pittsburgh were rained out on Tuesday, bringing the total postponements this season to 28, the most related to weather through April since the commissioner's office started keeping those records in 1986.
"This has really been a unique April for us," Manfred said. "We've set a record for the number of games that have been cancelled and, probably more troublingly, we've played a lot of games in really tough weather. I think we have 12 cities that have been more than 10 degrees below their average temperature for the month of April."
Still, Manfred said the solution isn't as simple as scheduling early-season games in domes and warm-weather cities.
"No teams are going to want to start the season on the road for a couple of weeks," Manfred said. "In fact, the Basic Agreement prohibits a trip that long. Equally important, the domed and warm-weather markets don't want that many games early in the year. Whether you have a dome or it's warm weather, until school gets out they are tougher dates. We will do everything possible to try to schedule in a way that minimizes weather damage. It's in our interest to do that. But there are real limitations in the schedule."
Manfred's schedule in Toronto included a meeting with Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro and separate sessions with representatives of team owner Rogers Communications Inc., including chairman Edward Rogers.
Renovations to Rogers Centre, Toronto's home since June 1989, were among the items on Manfred's agenda.
"Given the passage of time, the building is probably out of date in terms of the amenities that are available in many of our ballparks," Manfred said. "While the building is fundamentally sound, I think it needs an update to make it as economically viable as possible."
Manfred tries to visit as many big league teams as he can each season and, having not been to Toronto last year, was eager to come early this season. The timing of his trip was unrelated to Monday's deadly attack in Toronto, in which 10 people were killed and 14 injured when a driver deliberately struck pedestrians with a van along a busy sidewalk.
"All of us at Major League Baseball were devastated," Manfred said. "You were in our thoughts all day yesterday and will remain there for some time. I hope that maybe our game tonight will provide a little bit of the beginning of a healing process that will be important for this city."
A blue banner reading #TORONTOSTRONG was hung from the second deck in centre field before Tuesday night's game, Toronto's first since the deadly incident. Similar signs were hung on the wall behind home plate, and the team honoured the victims and first responders who helped at the scene of the attack before the first pitch.
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Ian Harrison, The Associated Press