Cardinals and Braves get pace-of-play reminder


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Outside of those two giant timers in every park, which tick down to zero every half-inning, you’d never know that spring training is supposed to be serving as a giant pace-of-game training laboratory.

But the St. Louis Cardinals found out Wednesday that big brother -- or at least Major League Baseball -- is, in fact, watching this stuff as baseball phases in its new pace-of-game rules in advance of Opening Day.

After the top of the first inning of Wednesday’s Cardinals-Braves game at Champion Stadium, plate umpire Joe West called both managers, Mike Matheny and Fredi Gonzalez, out of the dugout. Matheny said the point of the brief meeting was to let them know that West already noticed a couple of hitters leaving the batter’s box between pitches -- and to remind them that’s now against the rules.

"I said, 'To be honest, Joe, we all know the rules, but nobody has really been pushing them very hard where we’ve been,'" Matheny said afterward. "'And I just figured you guys would let us know when somebody’s upsetting the apple cart. But up to that point, I’m not going to make guys overly conscious about it.'"

Matheny said he actually appreciated West taking the time to mention there was an issue and to point out hitters who need to change their habits, because down the road, this won’t be dealt with quite so casually.

"It’s good for us to know," Matheny said. "Just tell them to cut it out [because] the league will be watching."

The other big pace-of-game rule that very few players seem to be aware of this spring is that pitchers don’t have to wait until the between-inning timer ticks down to zero before they throw a pitch. In fact, they’re allowed to deliver that first pitch with 20 seconds left on the clock. But pitchers routinely have been staring at the timer until it reaches zero before going to work.

"Actually," Matheny said, "if they wait till zero, they’re in violation."

But Matheny thinks this is a matter for individual conversations, not major team meetings. And while he makes a point to say his team agrees "100 percent" with what baseball is aspiring to accomplish, he also believes it will be more important to address the new rules in a couple of weeks than instead of right now.

"We just haven’t made a big deal of it," he said. "Once we get our team closer to what it’s going to look like, we can talk about exactly how the rules are going to apply to the major league team.

"Right now, we’ve got a bunch of guys [who are going back to the minor leagues], and the last thing I want them worried about is the clock. You know, this might be their only chance to come out here and pitch. And it might be their first and last time that they get to pitch in this kind of environment. And I just want them to go out there and do what they’ve got to do. But we’ll have it all tightened up by the time we get going, or by the time we get to that last week of the spring."