CHICAGO – Come Monday, there is going to be a little more room in big league bullpens, from Seattle to Tampa Bay, and plenty of places in between.
Major League Baseball is moving forward with its oft-delayed plan for a 13-pitcher limit on active rosters. The move could affect the game in a variety of ways, from more position players taking the mound to a few more trips to the minors for pitchers with options.
“I don’t know that I understand it. And it is OK because we follow the rules," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “But it’s just one of those where it is a little hard when they’re telling you how to compete. I feel like sometimes, especially with our doubleheaders coming up, I think it can put teams at a disadvantage.”
The 13-pitcher limit originally was announced by MLB before the 2020 season, one of several changes that included expanding active rosters by one to 26 and requiring pitchers to face at least three batters or finish a half-inning. But the limit has been pushed back repeatedly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
MLB and the union said March 31 that a 13-pitcher limit would be enforced starting May 2, then on April 16 announced the date had been pushed back to May 30. They said last month that the change would go into effect June 20, and MLB sent out a reminder last week.
“For us, I was hoping that they didn’t do it,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said with a chuckle. “I could sit here and lie to you, but it would be nice if we could keep that extra pitcher.”
Washington is last in the NL East and had all sorts of pitching problems – in part because two starters, Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross, have made a combined one start in 2022 because to injuries. There have been injuries to the bullpen, too, along with plenty of ineffective outings, leading to a roster churn among relievers this season.
“Honestly, it’s not just us, either,” Martinez said. "You look around baseball at what’s going on, I think having an extra pitcher would definitely help – at least the rest of this year.”
Washington was one of 18 teams with at least 14 pitchers on the active roster after Saturday's games, according to Sportradar. Seattle had a major league-high 15, and the group also included division leaders Minnesota, the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers, along with reigning World Series champion Atlanta.
MLB is hoping the 13-pitcher limit will help hitters and the pace of play. Today's bullpens are deeper than ever before, featuring a stream of hard-throwing pitchers. Having one less option in the bullpen likely will mean fewer pitching changes that can bog down a game.
“I think they're doing that to, in theory, keep the starters in the game, not run to so many matchups,” Chicago Cubs manager David Ross said Sunday. “You know they did that with the three-batter minimum, so I think in their mind it's for the betterment of the game. We'll see how it plays out.”
Roster flexibility likely will take on added importance with the limit in place. The more pitchers with minor league options, the more possibilities for a team looking for a fresh arm for a tired staff.
The change also could lead to more position players taking the mound at a time when baseball has faced renewed questions about the practice — and what it says about the health of the game.
Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel surrendered a homer to New York Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka on a 35.1 mph pitch on June 12 — the slowest hit for a homer since Statcast began tracking in 2015. The play caught the attention of Stephen Colbert, who poked fun at Schwindel's pitch during his late-night TV show.
Detroit used three position players to finish a 13-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, a performance that Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said was embarrassing.
Through Saturday's games, 31 position players had taken the mound a total of 42 times, according to Sportradar. The numbers are nearly identical to last year, when 34 position players had taken the mound a total of 42 times through June 18.
“You're not going to waste pitching,” Ross said. “You're going to try to go after the games you can win and the ones that you might be out of it, you're definitely going to move on to the next day.”
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum and AP Sports Writers Joe Reedy and Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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