- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2015

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Digging his left foot in, Mike Carp pulled himself into the batter’s box Thursday afternoon. He tapped the plate, planted his right foot and was set. What he did after the first pitch is precisely the adjustment Major League Baseball is looking for.

Carp has played parts of seven seasons in the major leagues, and during all the others, he has stepped all the way out of the batter’s box in between pitches. His departure from the box was not a journey away like the wanderings of Boston procrastinator David Ortiz. Rather, he stepped back a few inches from the edge of the box to corral a thought and whack some dirt off his cleats with his bat.

On Thursday, Carp stepped on top of the outer chalk of the batter’s box to take a pause. The line bisected his front foot. His back foot was tucked into the corner of the box. Carp was able to take his break without taking leave.

Those movements are what MLB wants with the new rule that says batters cannot leave the box in between pitches. It’s part of the league’s pace-of-play push for the fidgety viewing world. Its pursuit is to reduce time of play in a game without a clock, and one that has been historically known for it’s leisure; not to mention the tension built by such delays during the postseason, turning each pitch into an individual cardiac episode.

The sentiment from the league is understood by most, some vocal contrarians notwithstanding. Ortiz used an expletive when first talking about the change. He said at the start of spring training that he would refuse to comply with the policy.

Any small change to the process at the plate can be a severe disruption for the methodical and meticulous routine-based players that populate baseball. Nationals manager Matt Williams said he has not heard any grousing from his clubhouse.

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“As we go through spring and get to the regular season, I don’t see any issue,” Williams said. “Our guys have mentioned nothing to me about feeling uncomfortable, anything of that nature, to date. That tells me they’re simply abiding by the rule that is set up There’s nothing that our guys can do about it anyway, so we play. If we allow that to rent space in our brain, we’re not optimal in the field. They realize that. So, just go play.”

Williams played 17 big-league seasons. He said most of his adjustments — kick some dirt, wind the bat — took place when he was in the box. A look back at a handful of Williams’ at-bats in the 1989 National League Championships Series between his San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs confirms this. Williams appears to step out of the box, briefly, in most part because he can. He’s often reset before the pitcher is back on the rubber. Williams was a half-step from following the new pace-of-play rule when it did not exist.

“I don’t think it would have influenced me,” Williams said. “I had a lot of movement at the plate when I was in the box. But, out of the box, I didn’t really do much. That being said, I don’t think there is this huge pressure on our guys or any other team to have this [idea fill] space in our brain, because it works within the confines of the game. They are not going to say you have to keep your foot in the box in spring training, but they are reminding everybody: this is kind of a plan that we have moving forward.”

When Williams talks about the rule, he makes it sound more like a suggestion than a commandment. The same vibe could be taken a day earlier from MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark. When asked about Ortiz’s staunch refusal to abide or Seattle Mariners reliever Fernando Rodney saying he would continue to enter the game in his preferred plodding style, the countdown clock for such entrances be damned, Clark was more than supportive.

“I think it’s great when guys make a determination that this is what they need to do to be successful,” Clark said. “Obviously, there are some challenges in place that exist this year that didn’t exist last year, and we’ll work through them. We’ll work through them. David and Rodney are outstanding and they’ve been guys who have played this game at a very high level for a long period of time.

“There are a lot of people who come to the ballpark to watch both of them perform. So making sure we do the things we need to continue to do in the hope of pulling a few minutes off that back end without creating controversy at the plate or on the mound is what we’re hoping to do as the season goes along.”

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Williams’ main concern is that the rule does not influence his players’ approach at the plate, and he again references the renting of space in the brain when explaining. No word on the going rate or square footage of the space.

Clark repeatedly mentioned “knocking off a few minutes on the back end” as a result of the new rule.

“I think as much as anything else, there’s an adjustment period,” Clark said. “There’s an acknowledgement that as we work through spring training and as we work through the first month of the year that guys are steadily trying to acclimate themselves with those considerations. Sometimes they go smoothly, sometimes not so much. At the end of the day trying to see if guys can establish some new habits perhaps in an effort to keep the game moving to where we have a few minutes off the back end come off without negatively affecting the play on the field.”

The rule had little influence Thursday in the Nationals’ 11-9 loss to the New York Mets. A flurry of runs in the bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth — plus some walks — assured that. The game rivaled the average NFL game, going 3:07.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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