PITTSBURGH – Lance Lynn kept misfiring with his fastball in the first inning Monday, and once the bases were loaded with Pirates, Paul Molitor took action. He sent pitching coach Garvin Alston to the mound to give the Twins righthander a moment to collect himself and focus on pitching to Colin Moran, due up next.
While Alston, Lynn and catcher Jason Castro conferred, the scoreboard down the left-field line registered the event: One of the six dots next to the Twins logo disappeared. The Twins had only five mound visits remaining.
Minnesota has visited three stadiums since departing spring training, and MLB’s new rule about mound visits, established in hopes of improving the flow of games, has been evident in three different ways on scoreboards: a box labeled Mound Visits on Washington’s main board, a column reading “MVR” (mound visits remaining) in the linescore totals in Baltimore, and the sideboard dots in Pittsburgh.
The effect has been much less evident on the field.
“It’s been pretty much a nonfactor for us, so far,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, whose team has been charged with a mere five visits in four games. “They don’t carry over, unfortunately.”
But the Twins, who had an off day Tuesday, have spent time evaluating what effect the rule might have, and discussed some ways to deal with it. Molitor knows that there inevitably will be games when the rule might come into play.
“If you want to put a play on late in a close game, make sure the infielders are all on the same page, you’ll need to be aware that you have to have one available,” he said. “You don’t want to be careless about it.”
That’s why both Twins catchers say, in instances where they want to discuss strategy or get the signs right, they look to the dugout before trotting out to the mound, in effect to get Molitor’s OK. “We’ve talked about checking first, making sure [the coaches are] aware of why it’s necessary,” said Mitch Garver, backup to Castro this season. “Just don’t waste them is the message.”
And even Alston, when he sees something he wants corrected, makes sure Molitor is OK with going out, “which is probably a good way to start,” the manager said.
Players and managers are still getting used to the boundaries and definitions that might come into play. If a pinch-hitter is announced, he’s allowed to confer with the pitcher without being charged with a visit, and they can chat during a replay or injury delay, too.
Castro said for any broad message to the pitcher — watch the runner, the infield is in, etc. — he might just yell from the plate area, when in days past he might have jogged out for a brief chat. “You can give some verbal commands from your area, but I don’t know if there’s a cutoff point, a line you can’t cross,” Castro said. “I’m not sure how much space you have to cover for it to be a visit, but I don’t anticipate testing that line.”
He has made a few adjustments, though, like spending more time talking about the upcoming hitters with the pitcher between innings. “That way, in the event that you have to go out there, it’s to give the guy a break, not to talk strategy,” Castro said. “I’m not a guy who typically likes to make a ton of them, but if things aren’t going well, you’ve got to make visits. If we’re having to make four, five, six mound visits, that’s probably not a great sign.”
Molitor believes the rule will come into play as more inexperienced pitchers reach the majors late in the year; for now, he’s using veterans who don’t need in-game conferences, for the most part.
To Castro, the rule change that he’s paying more attention to is the reduction in time between innings to 2 minutes, 5 seconds.
“That came up in spring training — I need to be cognizant of making sure, when a reliever comes in, that we’re on the same page with signs, but I have to leave enough time for him to get his warmups,” Castro said. “That was the bigger challenge. If it takes me calling down to the bullpen between innings, we’ll see if that’s how we go.”
The new rules may seem arbitrary, especially since the effects figure to be subtle — fewer stoppages in the late innings of close games. The goal isn’t necessarily to reduce game times, but to make the games flow better.
“I can see the usefulness. Too many stops isn’t good,” Brian Dozier said earlier this spring. “Just as long as we’re not changing the fundamentals of the game.”
And mound visits? They’re not always effective anyway.
After Alston visited Lynn on Monday, Moran hit a 3-2 pitch into the seats for a grand slam.