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Rob Manfred lauds drop in average MLB game length

Baseball's speed-up initiatives appear to be working.

In the first 2 1/2 months under new rules designed to hasten the pace, Major League Baseball games are ending more than five minutes quicker on average this year than they did last year.

Commissioner Rob Manfred announced earlier this week at the owners meetings in New York that the average contest this year is running 2 hours, 59 minutes, 49 seconds. The average was 3:05:11 a year ago.

Entering this season, MLB mandated shorter breaks between innings and for pitching changes, and instituted a limit of six mound visits without a pitching change.

Manfred said mound visits are at 3.92 per game in 2018, a significant drop from 7.41 in 2017.

"One of the things that happens when you make rule changes in the pace-of-game area -- put the actual change to one side -- it puts pace in the front of people's minds," Manfred said. "We think some of what we're seeing is just players playing faster. 

"Our mound visits are down 47 percent, and as close as I can tell, we've been able to play all the games without a mound-related incident despite predictions to the contrary. I think that's a positive."

Manfred also discussed the potential that the American League and the National League might finally get rid of the one rule that differentiates them, the designated hitter. Games at AL parks have employed the DH since 1973, while the NL still has pitchers bat.

"I think that is a continuing source of conversation among the ownership group, and I think that the dialogue actually probably moved a little bit," Manfred said.

"We have a core of National League owners that prefer the National League game, there's no question about it. I don't think anybody likes pitchers getting hurt, and I don't think even the people that like the National League game see pitchers hitting .113 as a positive, either. The DH is one of those topics that you never quite put to bed."

Manfred addressed a potential change to the schedule for future years that might see key interleague matchups played as two-game weekend series on Saturday and Sunday. MLB's standard scheduling has all weekend series as a minimum of three games.

"We obviously have been reluctant because of scheduling traditions to do a two-game series on a weekend, even if it's one of our prime rivalries," Manfred said. "That's something I think you will see in the future. If it's our biggest games, (with) a little flexibility and hard work, maybe you can put them on the two days when most people are interested in seeing them."

The proliferation of defensive shifts also drew discussion among the owners this week.

"(We understand) the difficulty of trying to make rule changes and expecting that those rule changes are going to produce a particular outcome on the field," Manfred said. "Take shifts. When they came, it was common thought that people were going to learn to go the other way.

"The fact of the matter is, the human element took over and what they decided to do was go over the top (and try to hit homers) instead of going the other way. The outcomes of these rules changes are uncertain. We want to proceed judiciously, but I also think we want to proceed. ... We're in the discussion/analysis phase, not the decision phase."

Manfred also said MLB is attempting to remove from the internet the viral video of former New York Mets manager Terry Collins' foul-mouthed tirade at umpires in a May 2016 game. The video, taken from a FOX television feed, has been circulating online this week.

The problem for MLB was that it guaranteed the umpires that audio of such interactions would never be aired.

"We made a commitment to the umpires that if they would wear microphones, certain types of interactions that we all know go on on the field would not be aired publicly. We promised them that. It's in the collective-bargaining agreement.

"We have no choice in a situation like that than to do everything possible to live up to that agreement. It's kind of Labor Relations 101. To not do that is the kind of breach of trust that puts you in a bad spot in the long run."