- By Gary Schatz Contributing Writer
The Cactus League opens Friday as the Reds and Indians meet to kick off the rust of winter.
Players compete for their baseball lives this time of year and now they have to do it in a bigger hurry. That’s because spring training is a few days shorter. Believe it or not, the Reds open the season against the Nationals on March, 29.
Meanwhile, Joe Torre is sweeping through all 30 spring training camps laying out some new rules to speed up the game.
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Here are five takeaways heading into Cactus League play:
1. Shorter spring
The Major League Baseball Players Association wanted a shorter spring training. Major League Baseball complied while keeping the same number of exhibition games.
Arizona cities have too much invested in stadiums and training facilities to allow for a shorter exhibition season. Position players reported Sunday. They had a full week last spring to get ready for games, as opposed to five days.
“We are playing 27 outs today, which we usually do later in spring,” Reds manager Bryan Price said, referring to a drill in which the full team works on situational plays.
2. Speed-up rule
After consultation with the union and team personnel, MLB will proceed with a rule change limiting visits to the mound to six — not six manager or pitching coach visits, but those by infielders and catchers as well:
A pitcher and fielder can speak to each other in the normal course of play as long as neither leaves his position, if there’s an injury or potential injury to the pitcher, or a visit during an offensive substitution (pinch hitter).
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“Most umpires know the game situations and would give leeway in a tight game,” Price said.
MLB is also taking steps to expedite replay reviews. They are also cracking down on sign stealing with electronic equipment.
“They talked to us about this at the winter meetings,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I understand what they’re trying to do — take out a lot of dead time without altering the way the game is played. There are going to be some adjustments. We will have to pay attention to things that we didn’t worry about before.”
3. Cactus extras
MLB requires teams to play a 10th inning this spring in hopes of avoiding ties.
This spring, the 10th inning will start with a man on second base. The rule was used in the World Baseball Classic to prevent teams with limited rosters from running out of pitchers. It is the same in spring training. Visiting teams bring a limited amount of pitchers to games in the Cactus League.
“Fans want a win or loss, an end result,” Price said.
Baseball has experimented with the rules with the minor leagues in mind.
“The concern is for minor-league games or special tournament events like the WBC,” Price said. “I’m not sure if that includes the All-Star Game. It’s factual. When you have one of the minor-league teams play one of those 15-inning games, an entire organization shifts. Players are moved to different rosters and people are flying all over the country to have players recover without risk of injury.”
4. DeSclafani live
Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, who didn’t pitch at all last year, threw live batting practice Wednesday.
“I was absolutely thrilled to see Anthony DeSclafani on the mound,” Price said. “The ball came out beautifully. He commanded the fastball, slider, change-up. He threw a couple curveballs that were crisp. That was exciting.”
On the first day of camp, Price listed DeSclafani as one of his four definite starters. Last spring DeSclafani was expected to start on Opening Day but was scratched with a sore elbow. He never returned to form after several setbacks.
5. Exhibition starters
Price named Sal Romano to open the Cactus League season against the Indians, who counter with Mike Clevenger and Ryan Merritt.
Tyler Mahle will follow Romano along with Jackson Stephens, Kevin Schackelford, Keury Mella. Barrett Astin, Jesus Reyes and Jimmy Herget.
“Not all of them will pitch,” Price said. “A lot of these guys are scheduled for multiple innings.”