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MLB rule changes aim to increase pace of game

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association jointly announced on Friday that two countdown clocks will be installed in each stadium to regulate the breaks between innings and speed up games. That will be the most visible part of a two-pronged rules revision that also forces hitters to keep one foot in the batters box under most circumstances and modestly expands the video replay protocol.

There still is no crying in baseball, but starting this season there will be time clocks in all major league stadiums.

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association jointly announced on Friday that two countdown clocks will be installed in each stadium to regulate the breaks between innings and speed up games. That will be the most visible part of a two-pronged rules revision that also forces hitters to keep one foot in the batters box under most circumstances and modestly expands the video replay protocol.

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The Commissioner's Office has been working for years to pare down the average time of game, which ballooned during the steroid era to the point where some nine-inning games were lasting more than four hours. The effort has been fairly successful, but this latest change in the pace-of-game rules is intended to create clear parameters inside each inning break.

The announcement included a time chart that specifies how long a pitcher may warm up between innings, instead of simply allowing the traditional eight throws. If a pitcher runs out of time, he gets fewer warmup pitches. A pitcher may continue to warm up until there are 30 seconds remaining before the start of the next half-inning.

The plan will be enforced with small fines rather than on-field penalties and fine money will be contributed to charity. There will be no fines during spring training or the first month of the 2015 regular season.

The replay system will be expanded to allow managers to keep their challenge after any overturned call and would increase the number of challenges allowed each manager to two for postseason, All-Star and playoff tiebreaker games.

Manager Buck Showalter had not had time to review the changes before meeting with the media on Friday, but he said he would favor anything that is practical and has a positive impact on the sport.

"I'm in support of anything that enhances our game,'' he said. "There are people who have been studying it and looking at it a lot more intently than we have. I personally don't think a lot about that part of it, but people smarter than me that have researched it a lot more than me think it's something we need to do, so I'm in support of that."

The Orioles have had great success with a variety of defensive shifts over the course of Showalter's tenure as manager and that will continue, though new commissioner Rob Manfred recently hinted that he might consider restricting the widespread use of unorthodox defensive alignments.

"How would they, would they chalk the field and say 'you can't go beyond this spot?'" Showalter said. "How do you tell what depth you're allowed to play? … Does that mean you can't come in close for a bunt at third? I'm sure I'll be on that committee."

Around the horn

Showalter said all 29 pitchers and six catchers passed their physicals and participated in Friday's first spring workout. The first full-squad workout is Wednesday. … Eight Orioles pitchers threw bullpen sessions on Friday: right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez, Brad Brach, Ryan Webb, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy and left-handers T.J. McFarland and Mark Hendrickson. Showalter was particularly pleased with Jimenez's bullpen session and the fact that he retained the mechanical adjustment he and pitching coach Dave Wallace made near the end of last season. "He was in the zone the whole day today,'' Showalter said. "It was pretty good for the first time out." … Toronto Blue Jays catching prospect Max Pentecost, who was among the prospects that the Orioles were interested in as part of a possible compensation package for executive vice president Dan Duquette, underwent shoulder surgery and isn't expected to resume throwing for three months. ... The Orioles announced they are sending minor league left-handed pitcher Steven Brault to the Pittsburgh Pirates as the player to be named later to complete last month's trade for outfielder Travis Snider. Brault, an 11th-round draft selection by the Orioles in 2013, was 11-8 with a 2.77 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) between low-A Delmarva and high-A Frederick. Brault allowed just one earned run over 161/3 innings in his three starts with the Keys, going 2-0 with a 0.55 ERA.

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