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MLB introduces rule changes to speed up play

New Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred has unveiled a number of rule changes that have been designed to increase the pace of play in the North American league amidst concerns that games are becoming too long.

Manfred, who was elected in August and approved for a five-year term in November, first hinted at the rule changes upon stepping into his new role last month.

Under the changes, MLB umpires will now enforce Rule 6.02(d), which states that hitters must keep one foot in the box during an at-bat, subject to certain exception. This rule has already been successfully introduced in Minor League Baseball, the development series for MLB.

The MLB will also introduce timers to measure non-game action and break time between innings and pitching during games. Immediately after the third out of each half-inning, the timer will count down from 2:25 for locally televised games and 2:45 for games on national television. An MLB representative will oversee the timers and ensure players are ready for the pitch at the correct time.

The MLB noted that pitchers will be permitted to throw as many warm-up pitches prior to the point that 30 seconds remain on the clock. However, pitchers will be deemed to have forfeited any of the traditional eight warm-up pitches they are unable to complete prior to the deadline. Batters will also be encouraged to reach the batter’s box with 20 seconds left on the timer.

Under the final change, managers will no longer be able to come out of the dugout to initiate a replay challenge. Managers will also keep their challenge after each call that is overturned, whereas before a challenge was only retained after the first overturned call.

The rules will be enforced through a warning and fine system, with disciplinary measures resulting for flagrant violators. No fines will be made in the Spring Training period or during April of the 2015 regular season. Donations from fines will go to the Major League Baseball Players Trust charitable foundation based on the level of adherence to the new rules.

“These changes represent a step forward in our efforts to streamline the pace of play,” Manfred said. “The most fundamental starting point for improving the pace of the average game involves getting into and out of breaks seamlessly. In addition, the batter's box rule will help speed up a basic action of the game.”

The change comes at a time when baseball’s US television ratings are falling due to concerns the game is too slow to interest the youth market. Games currently average at 30 minutes slower than three decades ago, clocking in at just over three hours in duration.

Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB Players Association, added: “The players believe that enforcing the rules that currently exist regarding between-inning breaks and plate appearances is the best way to address the issue of pace of play. We're confident that today's announcements will have a positive impact on the pace of the game without jeopardising the integrity of the competition.”