With players now reporting to their teams’ home cities in preparation for resuming spring training and preparing for the season, Major League Baseball has released rule changes along with on-field and off-field health and safety protocols as it tries to operate during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The official report date for the three-week spring training, which MLB is calling “Summer Camp,” with Camping World paying a sponsorship fee, is Wednesday. Teams will begin regular workouts Friday in preparation for the season opening on July 23-24.
All players and staff will be required to undergo medical testing and screening before entering the franchise facilities.
The extensive operations manual has been sent to teams, players and staff. But MLB highlighted some of the most distinct changes and safety procedures, including a universal designated hitter, a tiebreaker rule for extra innings and three-batter minimum rule for pitchers. They include:
On-field rule changes
National League games will include the use of the designated hitter for the first time in history.
Each extra inning will begin with a runner on second base.
- The batter (or a substitute for the batter) who leads off an inning shall continue to be the batter who would lead off the inning in the absence of this extra-innings rule.
- The runner placed on second base at the start of each half-inning shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter. By way of example, if the number five hitter in the batting order is due to lead off the 10th inning, the number four player in the batting order (or a pinch runner for such player) shall begin the inning on second base. However, if the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter is the pitcher, the runner placed on second base at the start of that half-inning may be the player preceding the pitcher in the batting order.
- For purposes of calculating earned runs, the runner who begins an inning on second base pursuant to this rule shall be deemed to be a runner who has reached second base because of a fielding error, but no error shall be charged to the opposing team.
The new three-batter minimum rule will require the starting or any relief pitcher to pitch to a minimum of three batters, including the batter then at bat (or any substitute batter), until such batters are put out or reach base, or until the offensive team is put out, unless the substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness.
Any player may appear as a pitcher at any point during the game. However, all players eligible to participate in the game, regardless of position, must be included on that game’s lineup card.
Prohibitions against unsportsmanlike conduct will be strictly enforced to prevent unnecessary physical contact and support physical distancing between individuals on the playing field. In this respect, players and managers should maintain physical distancing from all umpires and opposing players. Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.
Procedures for Health and Safety
- Each club must submit a written COVID-19 action plan for approval by MLB.
- Spitting is prohibited (including but not limited to, saliva, sunflower seeds or peanut shells, or tobacco) at all times in club facilities. Chewing gum is permitted.
- Pitchers may carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture in lieu of licking their fingers.
- Clubs must provide expanded dugout and bullpen space at their ballparks.
- Players, umpires, and other on-field personnel should practice physical distancing to the extent possible within the limitations of competition and the fundamentals of baseball.
- There will be no pre-game exchange of lineup cards. Instead, each club will input their lineup card into a mobile application provided by MLB.
- Clubs may schedule up to three exhibition games before the end of Summer Camp. Clubs may consider scheduling games against their opening opponent in the days leading up to opening day. There is no limit on the number of intrasquad games.
- A regionally-based schedule will feature each club playing 40 divisional games and 20 interleague games against the corresponding geographical division.
Revised procedures for transactions
- All player transactions that had been suspended resumed this past Friday.
- Each club submitted a list of up to 60 players who will be eligible to participate in major-league games during the 2020 season.
- Roster rules include:
- By 12:00 p.m. (ET) on the first date of the revised 2020 regular season, each club must submit to MLB an opening day active roster with a maximum of 30 players, and a minimum of 25.
- The maximum active roster limit shall be reduced from 30 to 28 on the 15th day of the regular season.
- The maximum active roster limit shall be reduced from 28 to 26 on the 29th day of the season for the remainder of the season and postseason. There shall be no expanded rosters in September.
- The limitations on the number of pitchers on the active roster otherwise required shall not apply.
- In the event that a doubleheader takes place while the active roster limit is 26, both clubs may use an additional player.
- A club is permitted to carry up to three additional taxi squad players from its club player pool on all road trips with the Major League team. If the club elects to carry three additional players, at least one must be a player whose designated position prior to the season is catcher. Players on the taxi squad are permitted to workout with the Major League club but are not permitted to be in uniform and in the dugout during games. Upon the conclusion of each road trip, players on the taxi squad will return to the alternate training site.
- August 31 will be the trade deadline and September 15 will be the postseason eligibility deadline.
- Standard injured list placements will be for either 10 days or 45 days, with the latter replacing 60. A COVID-19 related injured list will allow for placements that will not require a confirmed positive test for COVID-19. A player may be placed on the COVID-19 related IL based on a positive test for COVID-19, confirmed exposure to COVID-19, or if a player exhibits symptoms requiring self-isolation for further assessment.