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5-inning games, 2-out innings? Odd MLB spring look on deck

A worker cleans the stadium seats as San Francisco Giants players train during the team’s spring training baseball workout in Scottsdale, Ariz., Friday. The seats are taped off for social distancing for fans ahead of the team’s baseball game with the Angels on Sunday. [AP Photo/Jae C. Hong]
A worker cleans the stadium seats as San Francisco Giants players train during the team’s spring training baseball workout in Scottsdale, Ariz., Friday. The seats are taped off for social distancing for fans ahead of the team’s baseball game with the Angels on Sunday. [AP Photo/Jae C. Hong]

Colorado Rockies infielder Ryan McMahon figures players can find plenty to do with any extra time they could get at the end of days if spring training games don't go nine innings.

“Maybe slide out for some golf. If not, head home, hit the couch and watch some basketball right now,” McMahon said.

Or maybe even some extra batting practice.

“It could be, right? Depending on the day and depending on how things went, there’s a lot of different ways that you could go with it,” McMahon said. "The days are different every day, that’s for sure.”

Things certainly could look different when spring training games begin Sunday, with managers allowed to mutually determine in advance how many innings their teams need or want to play.

“What we’re finding is it’s going to provide some flexibility," Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I think teams are viewing this differently. My early read on it is we’ll have some different game lengths daily, based on teams’ available pitching."

Some games may not even make it to a seventh-inning stretch, since they can be as few as five innings through March 13. Even after that, until the end of spring training, games can be scheduled for only seven innings.

“It’s a very reasonable decision by MLB to be flexible,” said White Sox skipper Tony La Russa, managing again a decade after his game with the St. Louis Cardinals, and 35 years after he was last Chicago’s skipper.

The potentially shorter spring training games, and the ability to end innings before three outs, come on the heels of 2020, when teams had to alter workouts and the season was shortened to 60 games because of the coronavirus pandemic that is still ongoing. COVID-19 health and safety protocols remain in place while Major League Baseball prepares for what it hopes will be a full 162-game regular season this year.

Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell said he had already been in touch with Cleveland's Terry Francona by midweek about their spring training opener Sunday. Teams have to confirm with MLB the previous day on how many innings they intend to play.

“It’s just going to be communication between the managers. It’s all new to us but it should be pretty seamless once we get into it,” Bell said.

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly expects his team's first three games to go seven innings.

“After that, we're good for nine,” Mattingly said.

While the number of innings have to declared in advance, all of those innings don't initially have to be three outs.

Through March 13, defensive managers can end an inning before three outs following any completed plate appearance, provided the pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches.

“Fans may not like it in the beginning,” Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You’ve got two outs and the bases loaded and you yell over there ‘Last hitter. We’re rolling him.’ But in the long run I think it’s a smart move to help, especially now as we’ll be trying to stretch pitchers out.”

Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez said the ability to roll innings over, instead of trying to extend pitchers or use more pitchers to get out of an inning, will have managers on board to play nine full innings more often than not.

“It’s all about trying to keep everybody healthy. We’ve got guys out there to start the inning. You want them to get their work in, 20-25 pitches, some of these guys will be the maximum,” Martinez said. “After the shortened season, I put a lot of thought into keeping these guys healthy, getting them ready in a very controlled environment and building them up, which is really, really good."

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