Major League Baseball is implementing a pitch clock for the first time this season in an attempt to speed up the game, with pitchers able to see a clock counting down the seconds.
That’s not the case for Arizona high school pitchers, who this season also are taking the mound with a pitch clock being enforced. Except, they can’t see one ticking down. High school pitchers just need to know not to waste time on the mound once they get the ball, get the pitch selection coordinated with the catchers, and let loose.
The 20-second pitch clock is being enforced by the Arizona Interscholastic Association this baseball season with the first-base umpire using a stopwatch. The idea is the same as in the big leagues, to speed up games.
After a couple of weeks, most coaches responding to an email sent by The Republic don’t feel the clock is necessary.
“There seems to be a lot of uncertainty out there,” Chandler Hamilton coach Mike Woods said. “Different interpretations, different levels of enforcement.
“The main question is, ‘Why?’ Who benefits? It is not a safety issue. What’s the upside? Parents, administrators and umpires get home earlier. Those are the only winners I see.”
Woods said that every umpire he has talked to said they were not asked about it and don’t know of any coaches who were part of any committee to get the pitch clock adopted.
Brian Gessner, head of officials for the Arizona Interscholastic Association, did not return messages asking about the pitch clock from The Arizona Republic.
David Hines, executive director of the AIA, said that a pitch clock has been in the National High School Federation rules.
In fact, Eliliot Hopkins, the NFHS baseball rules liaison, said that a rule has been around the entire time he has occupied the rules liaison position, which is 24 years. But no NFHS member state associations – up to this point – have required schools to incorporate an actual pitch clock in accordance with the rule.
“It’s to make sure they don’t delay the game,” Hopkins said. “The game is long enough. If they’re requiring their officials to enforce that rule, it’s been around for at least 24 years.”
Hines said that it’s a point of emphasis this year.
“Officials are going to pay more attention to it,” Hines said.
Coaches have found that out. But, for the most part, coaches haven’t seen the pitch clock impacting games, which in Arizona high schools are 7-inning regulation games.
“The reason high school games are sometimes long is because they don’t throw strikes, catch, and or hit, not because they take too long to throw a pitch,” Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep coach Brian Fischer responded in an email. “I asked an umpire, ‘How does the pitcher know when the 20 seconds are up?, and he said he doesn’t.
“No warning or anything? A simple get on the mound or back in the batter’s box is all we need,” Fischer said. “Umpires are inconsistent on the clock and how they are calling but doing their job. I can see this costing a team in the playoffs and that will really be a shame. It would be like telling a basketball player to shoot before 30 seconds and don’t have a shot clock. I guess we are trying.”
As part of the enforcement, if a batter isn’t set in the batter’s box within 20 seconds a strike is called. If a pitcher isn’t in his windup before 20 seconds, a ball will be called. If that happens, Hines said, no pitch will be counted.
That is important because of another rule that imposes pitch limits on high school players and minimum rest days before they can pitch again. That rule came into play last year, when it cost Queen Creek a win that would have eliminated Hamilton from the state playoffs. Hamilton picked up a forfeit win from Queen Creek for using a pitcher who had exceeded the number of pitches used, and Hamilton ended up winning its eighth 6A state title.
When does the clock start?
The point of enforcing the 20-second rule, Hines said, is to pick up the pace of games that can sometimes drag on to three-plus hours even for seven innings.
“Maybe they’ve made the call of a couple of times this year, but not very often,” Hines said of a pitcher or batter exceeding the 20 seconds before a pitch is delivered.
Hines said there needs to be communication between the two coaches to make sure a pitch isn’t counted, even if there was a violation of the 20-second rule.
Not all coaches seem to know when the 20-second clock starts.
“In the five games we have played, there has been one pitch-clock violation,” Tombstone coach Jim Milligan said. “I think there is some confusion as to when the clock actually starts. At home plate meetings, I have received different answers from, ‘As soon as the pitcher receives the ball,’ to “As soon as everyone is reasonably ready.’
“There is no clock so the pitchers have no idea when it starts or how much time they actually have. I don’t see where it has had any effect on speeding up the game like they’re trying to do in MLB.”
Phoenix Brophy Prep coach and Athletic Director Josh Garcia said the pitch clock this year is new to him and called it an early-season adjustment with inconsistencies on when the clock started.
“The umpires have made it a point to clarify at the home plate meeting before each game,” Garcia said. “Time will tell if I’m for or against it, but consistency amongst the umpires is going to be key so kids know what to expect.
“If some umpiring crews are more strict than others, this will cause some frustration down the road, especially if it’s emphasized in the state tournament.”
That is the sentiment of most coaches who responded to an email sent by The Republic to high school coaches in Arizona.
“We have had a couple calls go against us in our first six games,” Scottsdale Chaparral coach Troy Gerlach said. “I would like it if the umpire keeping the timer would do a countdown like they use to in football before they put in the play clocks.
“This would help all players and coaches have a reference of the time versus the random ball or strike call. I also think that the batter should be in the box by the eight-second time like MLB and the NCAA have in place.”
Fountain Hills coach Bob Langer calls it a “terrible” rule for high schools.
“It has only affected us three to four times this year, and those were three to four times we needed more time,” he said. “Step off for a new sign. Step off for a runner leaving early. Catcher needs a sign repeated. Totally unnecessary rule addition.”
Former major league pitcher Bobby Howry, who coached Northwest Christian to the 3A state title last year, said he is not a fan of the clock so far.
“When the only person who can see it is the base umpire who is holding a stopwatch in his hand, it makes it a guessing game for everyone else,” Howry said. “Didn’t really see a lot of wasted time between pitches in the games we were involved in before the clock. The only thing I’ve seen that has sped things up a little is the 90-second clock between innings. But that has its downfall also, as I have seen pitchers get less than five pitches to get loose between innings and that is just going to lead to pitchers get injured from not being able to get warmed back up properly.”
Buckeye Youngker baseball coach James Mayfield said he thinks the 20-second pitch rule has worked out well so far, but questions whether it’s really necessary for seven-inning games with a mercy-rule in place to end games after five innings if a team is leading by 10 runs.
“They warn pitchers when time is about to expire,” Mayfield said. “It would be great if there was a clock visible like the clock for basketball.
“I don’t feel that it is added pressure for coaches or players because most pitchers deliver their pitches well before the 20 seconds expire. I cannot speak for other coaches or teams in the state but I don’t think that it will make a significant difference in the outcome of our games.”
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