Baltimore Orioles

‘Those precious seconds’: Orioles’ hitters having more trouble than pitchers adjusting to new pitch clock

SARASOTA, Fla. — Over time, Cedric Mullins has donned more and more equipment when he bats. At some point, he started wearing an arm guard. The next year, he added a leg sleeve. This season, he’s introducing a hand guard.

But with Major League Baseball’s introduction of a pitch clock, the Orioles’ leadoff man has found he has only so much time to get dressed.


“You wouldn’t think you’d have to practice putting that on as fast as you could, but it’s definitely interesting,” Mullins said. “Sometimes, I’ll put the arm guard on, and it gets stuck somewhere, and I’m like, ‘Oh, jeez,’ yanking at it. Leg guard might not clip the first time through and gotta readjust that.

“You’re trying to keep those precious seconds.”


Mullins will get to enjoy a break from the system while playing for the United States in the World Baseball Classic, but spring training has been an adjustment throughout the sport, with the league introducing the pitch clock amid a collection of rule changes. Although the timer is prompting the pitcher to start his motion, it’s Baltimore’s hitters who have felt the most pressure.

In a home game, Mullins must run into the dugout from center field, put on his gear and be in the batter’s box ready to hit in under two minutes or risk starting off in an 0-1 count. After facing one batter, pitchers have 30 seconds to deliver a pitch to the next one. With the bases empty, they have 15 seconds per pitch, with the clock jumping to 20 with runners on; failing to start their motion by the end of the timer results in an automatic ball. In all cases, hitters must be in the box and alert to the pitcher with 8 seconds left or be given an automatic strike.

“At the end of the day, they have 15 seconds to do their job,” Orioles infield prospect Jordan Westburg said, “whereas we have seven seconds.”

‘OK, where’s the clock?’

The Orioles seemingly are fortunate in that they have many expected contributors who spent most or all of last year in the minor leagues, where the pitch clock was in effect but with less time for both pitchers and hitters. But even those hitters have found the major league system challenging this spring because of PitchCom, a device that gives the catcher the ability to electronically deliver signs.

Although it was in the majors last year, the device wasn’t allowed in the minors, meaning batters felt a benefit of a couple of extra seconds between pitches as catchers relayed signs in the traditional form of putting down fingers. Adding to the rapidity this spring is the testing of a PitchCom for pitchers, where they’re able to call their own signs.

“Honestly, I think it’s more of an adjustment for the hitters than it is for the pitcher, especially with PitchCom,” catcher James McCann said. “It’s almost like you’re more worried about the clock right now than you are actually your approach or what this pitcher’s trying to do to you because we don’t know the clock yet. Something’s in the back of our mind, just constantly, ‘OK, where’s the clock?’”

Orioles pitcher Austin Voth prepares to throw as the pitch clock counts down during spring training Feb. 21 at the team's facility in Sarasota, Florida.

The addition has had the league’s desired effect of improving the pace of games; Tuesday’s exhibition was the first of the Orioles’ 11 games this spring to last more than three hours, hitting that mark in the middle of the ninth inning.

“It’s definitely a noticeable difference,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Right now, I think it’s a positive thing. We’ll see when the season comes. I think things are gonna change a little bit when games really, really matter.”


Players have the spring to adjust, with three more weeks of exhibitions between now and opening day. Westburg remembered a game early last year in which he wasn’t paying attention to the clock, and the umpire leniently gave him a reminder of its existence. There has been little of that this spring, with officials out to enforce the sport’s new rules.

Outfielder Anthony Santander was frustrated with a violation called in Baltimore’s spring opener, believing he was in the box and ready with nine seconds left. Sunday’s exhibition against the Tampa Bay Rays featured at least five violations between the teams. Hyde said the speed of the game caused him to miss many of them as he jotted notes in the dugout.

“I would have struck out a couple of times,” he joked.

Given the format of spring training, where starters get a few innings while often playing every other day, no Oriole has more than 20 plate appearances yet, meaning that adjustment period is ongoing. Westburg said it took a week of games before he began to gain rhythm.

“Now, 25 at-bats when you’re in the middle of 25 at-bats can feel like an eternity,” Westburg said. “But as long as you’re erring on the side of being early and you’re not off in ‘La La Land’ and you’re somewhat engaged in what the clock is doing, you’re gonna be fine.

“You’re gonna have to cut down on routines or superstitions or fixing the batting gloves or doing whatever your thing is, but if it means not taking a strike, I feel like that’s probably a good thing.”


Orioles hitters have tried to expedite those routines, either by dropping aspects or speeding them up. But they miss the ability to center themselves.

Hitters are permitted a timeout per at-bat, and Orioles outfielder Austin Hays used one earlier this spring after stumbling in the box after swinging at an up-and-in breaking ball. Typically, Hays said, that type of swing would prompt him to take a breath and relax, but with the ticking clock, he felt pressured.

“You want to step out, clear your brain,” Hays said. “All the game planning you did before the game, all the video you watched, you talked about what he throws in certain counts, what he’s done to you in the past, you don’t really have time to do that now.

“Pitching is about disrupting timing, and hitting is being on time, so now, when you actually put a clock into that factor, it makes hitting harder. I don’t think it’s going to help offense in any way, really. I really don’t.”

‘Fifteen seconds is, like, an eternity’

Santander said he believes the hitters’ benefits will come as starting pitchers begin working deeper into games in the regular season and possibly tire out from the quicker pace. That doesn’t mean this spring hasn’t been adjustment for them, too.

After surrendering a home run to the Atlanta Braves’ Michael Harris II on a cutter Saturday, Tyler Wells said that wasn’t the pitch he wanted to throw, but with the clock ticking and limits on the number of step-offs per at-bat, Wells went with a pitch he wasn’t committed to. For years, Austin Voth has come set with two taps of his feet, but as one of Baltimore’s slowest-working pitchers — averaging 14.8 seconds between pitches with the bases empty last year, according to Baseball Savant — he’s simplified his motion.


Still, pitchers expressed far less concern with the system than hitters, noting that PitchCom eliminates the fear of burning through time by shaking off the catcher repeatedly to get to the pitch they want to throw. With the new device, pitchers can relay what they want to throw next before they even get the ball back and start the clock.

“At the end of the day, they have 15 seconds to do their job,” Orioles infield prospect Jordan Westburg said of the new pitch clock, “whereas we have seven seconds.”

“I think it’s a bigger adjustment for hitters and their routines than it is for pitchers,” said left-hander Cole Irvin, who had the new PitchCom on his belt in exhibition outings. Right-handers Kyle Gibson and Kyle Bradish have also worn it in their starts, and Voth said he might use it when he pitches next.

The league has reportedly warned clubs about pitchers taking advantage of the clock; the memo came after New York Mets ace Max Scherzer held on the mound for several seconds, prompting the hitter to take a timeout, before immediately starting his motion when he stepped back in the box. McCann, Scherzer’s teammate last year with New York, described such gamesmanship as “probably not what the rules intended for.” Hays said it can be uncomfortable for a hitter to wait more than a few seconds when ready to hit, noting the pitcher can throw right when the batter is alert or wait until the timer’s final moments.

“Fifteen seconds is, like, an eternity when you’re in the box,” Hays said.

But outside of it, the clock moves quickly, sometimes prematurely so. Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle said he believes an operator error led to his automatic third strike Friday, saying the countdown began early. The clock is supposed to start once the pitcher has the ball, but Mountcastle said the timer began as a ball was being thrown to the pitcher after the previous pitch was in the dirt.

“I literally stepped out of the box, waited for him to catch it and then got back in the box, and I got strike three called on me,” Mountcastle said. “Right after he caught it, I was getting in the box, I looked up, and it was like six seconds, and I’m like ‘What the [heck]?’”


Mountcastle said the home-plate umpire gave him no warning of the approaching deadline. Infielder Ramón Urías was more fortunate, hearing “Here we go!” while tapping the plate with his bat and quickly straightening up during the Orioles’ third exhibition.

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“I didn’t know what he was talking about, and then when I pointed my face to the pitcher, I was looking at the clock and saw seven, eight seconds already,” Urías said, “and it’s like, ‘Oh, [crap].’ It’s crazy.”

This spring has brought other rule changes. There’s a ban on infield shifts, meaning all infielders must be in the dirt with two on either side of second base; veteran infielder Adam Frazier said he has typically used the grass line as an “anchor” but now must be more cognizant of where his feet are. The bases have been lengthened by 3 inches on each side to where they’re “like a medium pizza out there,” Mountcastle quipped, with hopes for improved player safety and increased steals.

But so far this spring, none of the changes are affecting the Orioles’ hitters as much as the pitch clock.

“It’s the only one,” Urías said, “that can mess with your mind.”

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