Toronto Star

Walking dread sucks fun out, some Jays balk

Tweaking rules for intentiona­l walks minus pitches doesn’t sit well with Martin and other purists


DUNEDIN, FLA.— It’s not hard to find a baseball purist in the Blue Jays clubhouse.

Players were getting ready for a light training session on a drizzly Wednesday morning here when news broke that the players’ associatio­n had agreed to Major League Baseball’s proposal to have intentiona­l walks without pitches this year — a signal from the dugout is all it will take.

The change wasn’t met with a warm welcome. Catcher Russell Martin — who called the move “just unnecessar­y” — was one of the most vocal detractors.

“My thing is, if they really want to speed up the game, then when a guy hits a home run, to speed up the game should a guy — just like in softball, when he hits it — should he just walk to the dugout?” said Martin, back on the field with the Jays after a brief illness. “It’d be quicker.

“I’m just wondering, at what point do we just keep the game the game.”

Martin also noted that pitchers used the intentiona­l walk to give their arm a break at times, and that the rule change could have a ripple effect in that area — leading to starters leaving games earlier. MLB commission­er Rob Manfred has said the goal is not simply to speed up play, but also to cut down on “dead time” and create more action.

The union has resisted many other proposals, including changes to the strike zone. Both sides have to agree for a rule change to go ahead unless MLB gives one year’s notice, in which case it can act alone.

Of the 932 intentiona­l walks in the majors last year, 10 were issued by Blue Jays. The only team with fewer was the Kansas City Royals, with eight.

“I’m just wondering, at what point do we just keep the game the game.” RUSSELL MARTIN BLUE JAYS CATCHER AND NO FAN OF MLB’S RULE CHANGE ON INTENTIONA­L WALKS, ANNOUNCED WEDNESDAY

Toronto hitters drew 16 intentiona­l passes, tied with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox for the fewest.

Jays reliever Jason Grilli says the potential for a botched intentiona­l walk — a wild pitch that allows runners to advance, or a ball that the batter manages to make contact with — has always been part of the fun.

“I think any pitcher will tell you when you’re trying to throw 90 miles an hour and then, all of the sudden, you’re trying to throw 30 (miles an hour), just to throw a ball and save your arm, guys have an issue with that,” he said. “The crowd plays into it . . . the game situation. You’re taking away a variable in the game.”

Grilli added that he had never played in a game where a runner scored on a wild pitch during an in- tentional walk, but had seen it happen. Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis tweeted that he had scored that way twice.

Players know there’s pressure to speed up the game, but Martin said he hadn’t heard about this change until it was announced — adding that the move isn’t all about making fans happy and moving the game along.

“I’m tired of hearing that same lame excuse all the time,” he said. “Just be honest. If they’re honest about it, we’ll get over it, but don’t hide behind the fans.

“What, they asked every single fan in baseball if they would agree, and the fans voted like it’s a democracy and 51per cent of the fans that watch baseball decided, ‘You know what? We don’t think the intentiona­l walk is necessary and we would like to speed it up a little bit.’ Give me a break.”

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