The coaches of the state’s top two college baseball programs seem content with most of the sport’s latest rule changes, though both are already dreading a scenario made possible by one particular tweak.
They can see it now.
Ninth inning. Two outs. Tying runner in scoring position. Two strikes on a batter.
Ordinarily a pitcher would have to be extra cautious about attacking the inside corner with a heater.
But perhaps next year the risk will be worth the reward.
Among several new rules announced last month, the NCAA will now penalize a batter by calling a strike — not a ball — if the umpire determines that the player made an attempt to get hit by a pitch.
Cue the controversy.
“Do I want to lose a game with a guy getting drilled by a 95 mph fastball running inside because the umpire says that he intentionally got hit by it and he calls strike three? No,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “But that’s in play now. So we’ll see.”
The Huskers — and everyone else around college baseball — will have to adjust. Starting now. NU opens fall practice this week. Creighton began its workouts last week.
They’ll prepare for a few other changes as well.
The NCAA has approved two coaches challenges per game for video review at ballparks where the technology is available. The amount of reviewable plays increases in the final two innings.
The sport will do away with the four-pitch intentional walk — a signal to the umpire is all that’s needed to put a man on base now. The third-to-first pickoff move is no longer allowed. Teams can only call timeout six times per game for defensive conferences on the mound.
A couple of the rules seemed targeted at addressing baseball’s pace of play concerns. Both Erstad and Creighton coach Ed Servais said they support that initiative.
The 2018 College World Series opened with the longest nine-inning game (4 hours, 24 minutes) in the event’s history. The 16 CWS games this summer, on average, lasted more than three and a half hours — another record.
The NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel did decline to implement a proposal requiring Division I teams to have two 20-second pitch clocks visible by 2020.
Servais isn’t sure rule changes will have the desired impact, though.
“I think coaches have more control over the pace of the game than we give ourselves credit for,” he said.
Eliminating the intentional walk will probably always bug Servais. The Jays won a conference tournament game in 2016 when a Seton Hall pitcher threw one to the backstop while trying to walk a guy.
Sometimes it’s best just to let the players determine the result, Servais said.
That’s what concerns Servais about the hit-by-pitch rule.
Three years ago, the NCAA announced that batters had to try to move away from a pitch headed their way. If not, the at-bat would continue and the pitch would get called a ball (or, in the rare case that it crossed the plate, a strike).
Servais said he teaches players to dip their chin and turn their shoulder if a ball runs inside. But an umpire could perceive the intent of that movement differently. And now the punishment would be a rather harsh one.
“We’ve put in a lot of gray area now,” Servais said. “There’s a lot more on the shoulders of the umpire. If he deems that you did not try to get out of the way — and even the ball was clearly inside for a ball — he calls that a strike. That could be a big play in the game. That could be a game-changer.”