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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The reality of baseball's new pace-of-play rules hit the Oklahoma City Dodgers' Matt Carson in the top of the sixth inning Friday night when he was down 0-1 in the count before he even saw a pitch.
Carson wasn't in the batter's box on time, and plate umpire Chris Gonzalez made him pay.
Carson threw up his hands in frustration, and then proceeded to strike out against Hunter Cervenka in the Pacific Coast League game at Principal Park.
Friday marked the start of the enforcement of the rules intended to speed up play after the average time of a major league nine-inning game stretched to a record 3 hours, 2 minutes last year.
Pitchers now have 2 minutes, 25 seconds to begin their windup or come to set between innings. They have 20 seconds to do so between pitches. Batters must be in the box and ready for the pitch when the clock strikes 5.
In the minors, warnings were issued through April. Now balls and strikes are to be added to the count as penalties against pitchers and batters. In the majors, players face possible $500 fines.
There were two violations in the Triple-A game here Friday night. After Carson was nailed in the sixth, Iowa's Adron Chambers was assessed a strike because he was slow to enter the batter's box leading off the ninth.
When Carson was late getting into the box, Gonzalez pointed at him and then turned to the press box and signaled a 0-1 count.
Carson said Gonzalez should have used his discretion to waive the penalty because he was entering the game as a pinch hitter and wasn't loose.
"A situation like that, you've got to have a feel for the game," Carson said. "You've got to know this guy is just coming off the bench. Give him a chance to get warm, give him a chance to get going. Guys don't want to get hurt. You go out there and you're not ready to swing, and then you take a swing and get hurt, pull an oblique, it's your career."
The new rules seem to be helping. The average game length in the majors was just under 2 hours, 54 minutes through Wednesday, more than 8 minutes under the 2014 mark. Games are 11 minutes shorter in the Double-A Southern League and 10 minutes shorter in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
Iowa manager Marty Pevey held a meeting with his players Friday to remind them that the rules would be enforced starting Friday. Cervenka said the clock is not a big concern for him but that it does distract some pitchers. He said he agrees with the intent.
"Overall, baseball is a long game, and sometimes we play four hours, so it's going to help with that," Cervenka said. "I'm sure some ballparks don't like it, throwing out two-and-a-half hour games, because it cuts down on their (concession) sales."
For scorekeeping purposes, violations will be counted in pitchers' and batters' statistics, Minor League Baseball spokesman Jeff Lantz said.
If a strike three is assessed, the play will be scored as a strikeout, so both the pitcher and the batter will have a strikeout added to their stat lines. In the case of a ball four, the walk will go on the pitcher and batter's stat lines, but it will not count on the pitcher's pitch count.
The rule also requires that each stadium have a clock operator. That job for the Cubs belongs to Trey Alessio, a 21-year-old college student and media relations intern. There are three clocks — one by each dugout and another in right field.
There was a phase-in period in April when only warnings were issued for violations. Alessio said there was a little more pressure knowing that his judgment on when to start and stop the clock could cause a pitcher or batter to get penalized. The key, he said, was "being in sync with the umpires."
Alessio said clock operators were given handouts on the pace-of-play rules about two weeks before the season and discussed them on a conference call with PCL officials. Alessio had a dry run during a college game at Principal Park.
Cubs president and general manager Sam Bernabe, a member of the Professional Baseball Playing Rules Committee, said he doesn't care for clocks in baseball. But if that's what it takes to keep the game moving, he can live with it.
"There is a difference between time and pace, and we should pick up the pace of the game," he said. "Whether it shortens the game or not remains to be seen. There'll have to be several years of observation and clockwork to see if that happens."
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