Crew using new spring rules to prep pitchers

February 20th, 2021

Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook figures he’ll see some puzzled faces in the stands once Spring Training games get underway. But he’s pleased that the rules are being bent to help teams prepare their arms for the return of a 162-game schedule.

Here’s a reminder of some key modifications in the 2021 Operations Manual pertaining to Spring Training:

• Games through March 13 will be scheduled as seven-inning games, though they can be shortened to five innings or lengthened to nine innings upon mutual agreement of both managers. From March 14 until the end of camp, games will be scheduled for nine innings, though managers can mutually decide to shorten to seven innings. Clubs must notify MLB of any game-length modifications by 5 p.m. ET the day before.

• The three-batter rule that requires relievers to either face three hitters or finish an inning won’t be enforced until March 14.

• In games through March 13, the pitching team may opt to “roll the inning” -- in other words, stop the half-inning regardless of the outs -- following any completed plate appearance after the pitcher has thrown 20 pitches in the frame. This practice is common in intrasquad scrimmages and simulated games to manage pitch counts.

• In all 2021 Spring Training games, a pitcher can leave a game and re-enter. So if Brandon Woodruff reaches his pitch limit in the first inning and the Brewers have a reliever they want to see work out of a jam, they can put him in to finish that inning, then send Woodruff back out for the next inning. Or if the Brewers want Josh Hader to work back-to-back innings at some point in his ramp-up to the regular season, they can execute the plan without worrying about his pitch count.

“It’s the ‘Doug Melvin rule,’ where he always wanted to take the starter out if he got too deep into an inning and put him back in,” Hook said, referring to the former Brewers general manager. “We’re going to be able to do those kinds of things. It’s a little bit more creative.

“The fans will be scratching their heads at times. But for us, on our side, it’s going to be really helpful in getting our guys ready for the season. It’s never more frustrating than when you have a starter in his second outing, and you want to get him up twice, and he has a 35-pitch inning. It just doesn’t go very well. So these rules are going to be very helpful for us developmentally and help us get guys ready for the season.”

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Hook is mindful of the challenge facing pitchers this season as MLB goes from a shortened 60-game regular season in 2020 to the usual 162-game schedule in '21, and he figures the Brewers’ flexible definition of “starter” vs. “reliever” in recent years will prove more valuable than ever.

“It's going to be new territory for everyone across the league this year,” said Brewers starter Corbin Burnes, who is coming off 59 2/3 regular-season innings last year. “There's starting pitchers with less innings. I think [Woodruff] was near the top with 73 innings. Hopefully, you want your guys at the top of the rotation to get 180-190 innings every year. Is that feasible this year? It kind of depends on the person. That's something that we've kind of talked about all offseason with Hook, [bullpen coach Steve] Karsay and [manager Craig Counsell]: How are we going to approach this as far as trying to make this jump from -- I think I made nine starts last year -- to hopefully out there for 30-plus starts? That's something that's going to be evolving throughout Spring Training and evolving throughout the season.”

To prepare, the Brewers intend to stretch out as many pitchers as possible to handle multiple innings. Of course, that includes starters Woodruff, Burnes, Brett Anderson, Josh Lindblom, Adrian Houser, Eric Lauer and Jordan Zimmermann, as well as the starters expected to begin the year in the Minors. It also includes long reliever Freddy Peralta and other multi-inning relievers like Brent Suter, Drew Rasmussen, Eric Yardley and others.

“We’ve got a group of guys that can do multiple things, and I think our guys come up through our system having the mindset, ‘Whatever I need to do to help this club win,’” Hook said. “That is no different from last year when we talked about the same thing in Summer Camp, 'Well, do we have enough length?' Our guys are ready for it. I think we've got nine to 10 guys that we feel like can give us length, and we're going to need every one of them.”

The Brewers’ Cactus League opener is scheduled for Feb. 28 at the White Sox.