Pittsburgh Pirates

MLB could get a rules overhaul, including a universal DH. These players have this to say

Notice the shortstop moving to the other side of second base and the second baseman shifting to shallow right field with a known pull-hitting lefty coming to the plate, and wonder what would happen if that wasn’t allowed?

Or how about pitchers no longer hitting and baseball games not coming to a grinding halt with pitching changes after one batter to get the matchup they want?

Well, those are just some of proposed changes that could come to Major League Baseball in the near future.

The Athletic first reported MLB and the players association are discussing major rule changes, consisting of a universal designated hitter, three-batter minimum for pitchers, 20-second pitch clock, roster expansion to 26 players (12 pitchers maximum), single trade deadline before the All-Star break, allowing two-sport stars such as Kyler Murray to sign major league contracts, draft rules to benefit winning teams and penalties for losing teams and a study to lower the mound.

Commissioner Rob Manfred is advocating for a defensive shift ban, according to several reports during December’s winter meetings.

The commissioner also wants to reduce the number of mound visits during a game, and he does not need approval to enact it.

The other proposals need baseball’s owners and players to come to an agreement, with the players association wanting the universal DH rule adopted as early as 2019, according to ESPN.

“It’s very pro-player,” Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Cole Tucker said before Monday’s Grapefruit League game against the Boston Red Sox at LECOM Park.

“Pitchers aren’t really getting paid or getting jobs to hit. There are the outliers like the Mike Leake’s of the world, the Madison Bumgarner’s of the world, the Steven Brault’s of the world, who can really swing it. But that’s more jobs for a position player, if they do implement that rule.”

Hardcore baseball fans and traditionalists enjoy the in-game strategy and style from National League games featuring double switches and other techniques with the pitcher hitting in the lineup.

Francisco Cervelli practices his reach at first during the Pirates-Red Sox game at LECOM Park on Monday. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The American League adopted the DH in the early 1970s, because the Junior Circuit wasn’t producing as much offense as their NL counterparts.

“I’m a big fan of baseball and I know the history,” Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon said. “I like the idea of the strategy and all that, but I think the argument comes down to fans aren’t paying to see a kicker in football try to block a defensive end or something. We’re not professional hitters. We’re professional pitchers. We work at pitching. I think fans would rather see a legitimate hitter face a legitimate pitcher.”

Having a universal DH changes the approach for pitchers on the mound, too.

Taillon, who has a 3.07 earned run average in 12 career games against American League competition, said having a DH means going to the park knowing you’re going to have 100-110 pitches, if pitching well, compared to possibly getting pulled earlier for a hitter in a big spot when a run might matter.

There is a negative, though, too.

“Your facing a big-time hitter, whose job is just to hit,” Taillon said. “So the lineup dynamic is a little different. Now I can say, ‘Hey, there’s a runner on second and I have the eight hole hitter up. Maybe I pitch around him to get to the pitcher.’ If there’s a DH, you’re pitching around people to get to a guy, who hits 30 homers. I like it both ways.”

Pirates right-hander Jordan Lyles threw two innings, allowing one hit and one run while striking out one, during Monday’s spring training game against the Red Sox at LECOM Park. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Forcing relievers to throw to a minimum of three batters is a rule proposal aimed at creating better game flow and falls into improving the pace of play category.

“I don’t like when the game gets choppy,” Taillon said. “I don’t like when, this sounds bad but when managers are strictly playing the right move. ... The game gets super choppy when that happens. You could have a righty, who has his best stuff that night, but when the lefty comes up, you’re bringing your lefty in just because that’s the right paper move.

“But if we do this, you’ve got to think, too, you’re taking away jobs from lefty specialists.”

The game gets choppy through defensive shifts — moving a player one way, only to move him back when the hitter gets two strikes — Taillon said.

“I don’t think you can ban shifting,” Taillon said. “It just seems like smart strategy.”

Added Tucker: “We are all in on the shifting thing, so that would really change things. As a hitter, it gives you more of the holes that you had in Little League of where you can hit the ball. But on defense, we save a lot of runs and save a lot of hits because of the shifts.”

Pirates designated hitter Josh Bell went 1-for-2 Monday against the Red Sox at LECOM Park. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

However, defensive shifts don’t alter how Pirates pitchers approach hitters known for putting the ball into where the shift is set up.

“We’re told not to really pitch into it,” Taillon said. “We’re told this is such a big chance that he hits into this shift that you can throw any pitch and the numbers show.”

While it’s difficult to lay down a bunt down the third base line with a shift opening that side of the field up, all it would take is one time to keep the defenses honest and avoid the constant shifting mentality for certain hitters.

“It’s kind of like a pitcher that throws really hard, throwing a breaking ball for a strike,” Taillon said. “You get guys off your fastball if you just show it one time. If you can show that you can bunt, then maybe that next at-bat we’re not going to shift and you can hit the ball through where that shift would have been.”

There’s no timetable for when any of the rule changes could go in effect or at all.

However, they all have the potential to shake up America’s pastime.

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Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.