MESA, Arizona — The thing you have to remember about the pitch timer is that it’s not designed to shorten games. Saturday’s 10-8 Cubs win over the Giants took three hours and six minutes and that was about the average length of a Major League Baseball game in 2022. If you think that was supposed to change for games like this — well, it most likely did. There were 26 hits, 13 walks, a couple of hit batters, a whole bunch of errors and a game that actually flew along, if you think about it.
I looked up all the 10-8 nine-inning games in the regular season over the last two seasons. There were seven of them. All of them had about the same number of hits, and all of them had fewer walks, so fewer baserunners in general.
The average game time of those contests was 3 hours, 37 minutes. That’s a small sample size, and of course a Spring Training game isn’t completely comparable to a regular season game. Nevertheless, the pitch timer did what it was supposed to do. It picked up the pace of play and, in fact, got quite a few baseballs in play Saturday afternoon at Sloan Park, and the result happened in 31 fewer minutes than that average.
Good work, pitch timer.
Let’s get the important news out of the way first, and it had nothing to do with the game:
#Cubs Seiya Suzuki scratched from ST game #1 due to left oblique tightness. Is under further evaluation.— Taylor McGregor (@Taylor_McGregor) February 25, 2023
This is not good news. Seiya Suzuki was in the lineup, and then he wasn’t. Oblique tightness is a difficult injury to come back from and can have a player out several weeks. There was no additional news after the game, and let’s hope for the best for Seiya. I’d guess this might prevent him from playing in the World Baseball Classic; he’s supposed to leave for Japan in less than a week’s time.
About the game, as is usual for many early spring games, not much happened that was significant. Marcus Stroman threw one rough inning and one good one. Suzuki was helped out by this nifty double play turned in the first [VIDEO].
The Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the second when Yan Gomes hit into a double play with the bases loaded.
Adrian Sampson threw two innings and, as we have seen on other occasions, he got dinged by the long ball, three home runs allowed. I wouldn’t be too concerned. First, it’s Spring Game No. 1. Second, the wind was blowing out at Sloan Park.
The Cubs trailed 5-2 when they pasted the Giants with seven runs in the bottom of the fifth. The first seven batters reached base, six off Drew Strotman, the seventh was David Bote, who hit a three-run homer [VIDEO].
One should not draw conclusions about anyone from one at-bat in a Spring Training game off a guy who’s probably not going to make the Giants Opening Day roster, but that ball was well struck.
Two non-roster pitchers who have a chance at making the Cubs Opening Day rosters had decent outings. Roenis Elias (whose last name is pronounced eh-LEE-as) gave up back-to-back doubles in the sixth, both of those might have been playable had Patrick Wisdom been at third base (Wisdom snared a line drive in the second, a nice play). Otherwise Elias looked okay. Mark Leiter Jr. threw a scoreless seventh, allowing a one-out single and erasing that on a double play.
About the defensive shift limits: You can see infielders edging toward the old-fashioned shift on lefthanded hitters. The shortstop comes as close as he can to the left-field side of second base without violating the rule, and is as far back on the dirt as possible, and the second baseman plays as far back on the dirt as he can. It’s not the weird setup where the third baseman plays short right field, but teams are still shading toward a “shift” of sorts against lefthanded batters.
There was one pitch timer violation called in this game. It happened while Cody Bellinger was at bat in the first inning with a 1-2 count. He waggled his bat over the plate more than is customary and that seemed to confuse Giants starter Tristan Beck, who was called for an automatic ball. Bellinger wound up flying to left.
But we have had our first automatic strike called in a key situation, in the Boston/Atlanta game Saturday:
Cal Conley does not get set in time and gets called for the strikeout and the game ends pic.twitter.com/rQ8KOv0Sa6— Gaurav (@gvedak) February 25, 2023
The batter was not ready and attentive to the pitcher with eight seconds to go on the timer, so that’s an automatic strike. It happened after Atlanta had already scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth and had the bases loaded with two out.
Imagine if that happened in a game that counted. That’s why they’re doing this with all the rules now, so players get accustomed to them.
About the pitch timer that you saw loom large on the screen during Saturday’s game: I have learned that the pitch timers in MLB parks will be set so they cannot be seen from the standard center field camera view, so as to not be a distraction on the broadcasts. Hitters, pitchers and umpires will still see them. This was not possible in all spring parks, which is why you saw it today. Instead of that, the pitch timer will be fed to TV channels’ graphic folks, and you’ll see them in the scoreboxes, similar to the play clock on NFL games or the 24-second clock on NBA games.
That’s it for this afternoon, a pleasantly warm, sunny day in Mesa with temps in the low 70s. Attendance was announced as 16,152, which established a new Cactus League record. It seemed pretty crowded almost everywhere in the ballpark.
The Cubs will travel to the west side of the Valley of the Sun to face the Dodgers. Justin Steele is set to start for the Cubs and Robbie Erlin will go for L.A. Game time is again 2:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.