MLB moving forward with long-delayed 13-pitcher limit

CHICAGO – Next Monday there will be a little more room in the big league bullpens, from Seattle to Tampa Bay, and many places in between.

Major League Baseball is moving forward with its often-delayed plan for a 13-pitcher limit on active rosters. The move could affect the game in a number of ways, from more positional players taking the mound to a few more trips to the minors for pitchers with options.

“I don’t know if I understand. And it’s okay because we’re playing by the rules,” said Cleveland manager Terry Francona. “But it’s just one of those ones where it’s a little difficult when they tell you how to compete. I feel like sometimes, especially when our doubleheaders come in, I think it can put teams at a disadvantage.”

The 13-pitcher limit was originally announced by MLB ahead of the 2020 season, one of several changes that included expanding active rosters by one to 26 and requiring pitchers to face at least three batters or finish a half-inning . But the limit kept being pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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MLB and the union said on March 31 that a 13-pitcher limit would be enforced beginning May 2, and then announced on April 16 that the date had been pushed back to May 30. They said last month the change would go into effect June 20, and MLB sent out a reminder last week.

It happens.

“For us, I was hoping they didn’t,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said with a chuckle. “I could sit here and lie to you, but it would be nice if we could keep that extra pitcher.”

Washington is bottom in the NL East and has had all sorts of pitching issues — including because two starters, Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross, made a combined start in 2022 due to injuries. There were also injuries in the bullpen, along with many ineffective outings, leading to a change in rosters among assists this season.

“Honestly, it’s not just about us either,” Martinez said. “They look around baseball to see what’s going on. I think an extra pitcher would definitely help – at least for the rest of this year.”

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According to Sportsradar, after Saturday’s games, Washington was one of 18 teams with at least 14 pitchers on the active roster. Seattle had a major league-high 15, and the group also included division leaders Minnesota, the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as reigning World Series champion Atlanta.

MLB hopes the 13-pitcher limit will help hitters and pace the game. Today’s bullpen is deeper than ever, with a stream of hard-throwing pitchers. Having one less option in the bullpen likely means fewer pitching changes that can slow down a game.

“I think they’re doing that to theoretically keep the starters in the game and not run to as many matchups,” Chicago Cubs manager David Ross said Sunday. “They know they did that with the minimum of three batters, so I think it’s for improving the game. We’ll see how it develops.”

Roster flexibility is likely to become more important with the existing limit. The more pitchers with minor league options, the more opportunities for a team looking for a fresh arm for a tired staff.

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The change could also result in more position players taking the mound at a time when baseball is once again facing questions about the practice — and what it says about the health of the game.

Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel handed a homer to New York Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka on a 35.1-mile pitch on June 12 — the slowest hit to a homer since Statcast began tracking in 2015. The play caught the attention of Stephen Colbert, who poked fun at his dizzy pitch during his late-night TV show.

Detroit used three position players to end a 13-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, a feat Tigers manager AJ Hinch called an embarrassment.

According to Sportradar, 31 position players conquered the hill a total of 42 times in the games on Saturday. The numbers are nearly identical to last year, when 34 positional players had conquered the mound a total of 42 times as of June 18.

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“You’re not going to waste the pitching,” Ross said. “You’ll try to keep track of the games you can win and the ones you might not be in, you’ll definitely move on to the next day.”

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AP Baseball writer Ronald Blum and AP Sports writers Joe Reedy and Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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