Jeff PassanESPNRead for 5 minutes
San Diego Padres star Manny Machado committed the first violation of the pitch clock in a spring training game, getting batted in the first inning for not finishing and watching the pitcher in the batter’s box as the clock reached 8 seconds.
Facing Seattle left-hander Robbie Ray in one of two games on Friday that will serve as a test drive for Major League Baseball’s rule review, Machado had failed to put his left foot in the batter’s box when the clock – which was prominently behind the batter and over the outfield fence — folded down. The home plate umpire, Ryan Blakney, called timeout, pointed to his wrist—the signal for a clock violation—and said, “0-1.”
Machado then singled, his first of two hits for the day.
“That time went fast,” Machado said after the game, which had gone by in 2 hours and 29 minutes, similar to the 2:33 time of Friday’s other game between the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. “It’s definitely something we’re going to have to get used to. It kind of takes away from your routine, being up there and zoning in front of the pitch. The referee gave me a little warning: ‘Hey, you’ve got 2 seconds’ – but I was already late when I got there.”
In last spring’s opener between the Padres and Mariners, there were three more pitching changes, four fewer hits and the game lasted 59 minutes longer. Kansas City and Texas also faced off in their 2022 spring debut and used three fewer pitchers, had one more hit and played 44 more minutes.
Pitchers have 15 seconds to begin their pitch when the bases are empty and 20 seconds with runners on base. They get an automatic ball when the clock runs out. The full suite of MLB’s new rules — including a ban on defensive shifting, a restriction on pickoff moves and larger bases — was first seen on Friday. With all 30 teams slated to play on Saturday, Friday’s test drives showcased what the league hopes will be seen as a new and improved version of the game.
Machado’s automatic attack was one of two fouls that day. The other came in the fifth inning when Texas left-hander John King faced Kansas City first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino. With the score 1-2, King didn’t throw the ball in time, making it 2-2. Pasquantino eventually walked.
“I actually felt sorry for the pitcher, because you could see him coming,” Pasquantino said. “So I was just waiting. I didn’t even get ready because it was like, ‘Okay, is this going to happen?'”
Pasquantino spent half of last season in the minor leagues, where MLB tested the pitch clock at all levels. The league viewed the clock as the greatest success of all its possible changes, as it cut about 25 minutes from average playing times in the minor league.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” said Machado. “It’s going to be fun. Who knows where this will lead? There’s a lot of strategy involved.”
The strategic elements go far beyond the clock. Pasquantino, a left-handed batter who was moved in 93.2% of his at bats last season—the seventh-highest mark in MLB, according to Statcast—hit a single through the right. While Pasquantino wasn’t sure the ball would have been gobbled up by the shift in recent seasons, the return of the undoubted pull hit for left-handed hitters, he said, could change their approach at the plate.
Every game saw a stolen base—the distance between bases shrank by 4½ inches with the bases expanding from 15 inches square to 18 inches square—and umpires called no balk. After a pitcher goes “out” twice during a plate appearance—either a pickoff attempt or a get-out—a third pullout that does not result in an out is considered a balk.
But the clock attracted the most attention from managers, batters and pitchers. “I looked at it a few times, but after the first inning I looked when I thought maybe I didn’t have enough time – and I had 12 seconds left,” said Royals starter Daniel Lynch.
“Guys are going to get a little tired of working at this pace,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “Whether it’s starters, relievers throwing a lot of pitches, there’s also going to be a stamina factor with it.”
“It will take the pitchers three or four appearances to get used to it,” Pasquantino said. “And for hitters, I think it’s probably going to be four or five games before everyone is rolling. I think the key is that the umpires are strict and they were today.”
The only snafu in the Kansas City-Texas game? On one pitch, Royals reliever Josh Staumont said, the two clocks behind home plate showed different numbers.
“It was also day 1 of spring training for the clock,” said Pasquantino.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.