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Cubs not fans of drastic rule changes MLB testing.

Byline: Gordon Wittenmyer Chicago Sun-Times

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If Rob Manfred had any admirers in major league clubhouses before he became baseball commissioner four years ago, good luck finding one now.

As if players' growing discontent with major league baseball's labor squeeze in recent years hadn't put enough distance between the commissioner's office and the men in uniform, some of MLB's radical proposals for changes in basics of the game are being openly derided.

MLB announced Friday an agreement with the independent Atlantic League to test drive a few changes being considered by the commissioner's office.

They include relief pitchers facing a minimum of three batters (or finishing an inning), elimination of extreme infield shifts (two players required on each side of second base) and the most radical of all: moving the mound two feet farther from home plate (to be implemented the second half of the Atlantic League season.

That's Manfred. He's changing the game," Cubs veteran pitcher Cole Hamels said sarcastically. "He can do whatever he needs to do."

Pitch clocks and limits on mound visits might seem irritating, but eliminating shifts and mandating batter minimums for relievers begin to tamper with the game's fundamental play.

And altering its dimensions might even be harmful for pitchers, who already bear the highest risk for injury among players.

"Let's just hope that guys can stay healthy," Hamels said. "I think anytime when you're messing with distances and stuff like that a I guess guys will just have to figure it out."

The dimensions of the actual mound, including the 10-inch height wouldn't change.

"I know that'll be Manfred's stamp. And you know what? We'll probably be talking about it more in 10 to 15 years if anything ever happens."

Count Cubs manager Joe Maddon as one of many against the mandated minimum hitters for a reliever to face.

"I don't like it at all," he said. "Pace of the game's one thing. Pitch clocks -- getting the pitch thrown quicker -- I'm good with that. But when you start messing with game strategy, that's what I really am not into at all."

Maddon and others have suggested such a rule could eliminate situational lefties from the game entirely -- one reason he believes it would be an especially hard sell in a negotiation with MLB players.

"I don't see that one gaining a whole lot of traction. That one doesn't make a whole lot of sense," he added. "Again, you're messing with typical, longtime, forever baseball strategy."

In recent years, the fake pickoff move to third and throw to first was outlawed, along with the chore of actually throwing four pitches to give an intentional walk.

Both impacted strategy in smaller ways, at least as they affected the base runners made uncomfortable by the fake move and the handful of pitchers who tended to sweat throwing balls intentionally out of the strike zone.

Moving the mound could be especially risky for pitchers who are throwing harder than at any time in history and throwing a wider array of pitches putting stress on joints.

Hamels said that when he was a kid, reaching an age to move up to leagues with bigger fields, his parents eased him first into a league with a less severe jump in pitching distance, before allowing him to eventually play in league with full-sized fields.

"People mature at a different rate. I know with me being a late bloomer I'm glad my parents were looking after me to make sure I remained safe and healthy," he said. "I was glad my parents did that and I didn't make that huge jump. Something could have gone haywire, and I wouldn't have been here today."

Split sweep:

Left-hander Cole Hamels ran out of pitches (58) after retiring the first batter he faced in the fourth but finished 3.1 scoreless innings as the Cubs blanked the Giants 8-0 on Saturday in a Cactus League split-squad game at Scottsdale Stadium. The Cubs' other split squad beat the Angels 11-4 at home in Mesa, Arizona.

Hamels needed 20 pitches in the first and 21 in the third to pitch out of jams, but the four-time All-Star seems to be right where he needs to be at this point in spring training.

Infielder Nico Hoerner, the 2018 first-round draft pick who keeps earning additional invitations from minor-league camp, followed up a 3-for-3 performance Thursday with another big game against the Angels in his only other Cactus League start. Hoerner walked and scored in the second, hit a 2-run homer to left-center in the third, was hit by a pitch in the fifth and doubled to center and scored in the seventh on Saturday. In his two starts for Cubs big-leaguers this spring, he's 5-for-5 and has reached base in all eight plate appearances.

Spring cleaning:

The Cubs made their first cuts of the spring, sending out 15 players to reduce the spring roster to 55.

That included right-hander Rob Scahill, who was released; right-handers Adbert Alzolay and Jen-Ho Tseng, who were optioned to Class AAA Iowa; and right-hander Oscar De la Cruz and lefty Justin Steele, who were optioned to Class AA Tennessee.

* This report was produced in partnership with the Chicago Sun-Times. For more coverage, check chicago.suntimes.com.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Mar 10, 2019
Words:875
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