Missions manager outlines rules changes in the Texas League

In the hours before the San Antonio Missions’ media day unfolded on Wednesday afternoon at Wolff Stadium, workers hauled out bases that would be installed on the infield dirt for a team workout.

To the naked eye, the bases looked bigger than normal.

That is because they were bigger.

The bags at first base, second and third are now 18-inches on each of the four sides, an increase from what had been the standard 15-inch square.

Larger bases are one of the new twists to the game in the Double-A Texas League this summer.

Missions manager Phillip Wellman confirmed that other changes centered on pitching, including an adjustment on the pitch clock “a couple of seconds,” and a mandated positioning of infielders — two on each side of second base.

Actually, the restrictions that did away with position shifts of, say, a left-side infielder to the right side, started in the second half last season, Wellman said.

In addition, for the second straight year, pitchers will not bat in a move toward universal use of the designated hitter in all games, even those involving two National League-affiliated teams.

The last time the Texas League used pitchers as hitters in the lineup, apparently, came in the 2019 championship series when Wellman’s Amarillo Sod Poodles (Padres) defeated the Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers) two games to one in a best-of-three series.

Nobody played minor league baseball anywhere in 2020, as the Covid pandemic shut down the game.

In 2021, a recent review of a sampling of Double-A game box scores indicated that the DH was in use for all games, even those involving National League vs. National League-affiliated opponents.

Wellman said the current DH rule will remain intact for the coming season, and that pitchers would not be part of the nine-man lineup.

In discussing the changes, Wellman said, “They changed the pitch clock, they cut a couple of seconds off of it.” Previously, the clock had been set at 30 seconds.

“They made some other weird rules changes, about disengaging from the rubber during a plate appearance,” he added. “A pitcher is only allowed to pitch over, or disengage from the rubber, twice in an at bat.

“You throw over the third time, if he’s not out, it’s a balk.”

Wellman also said the bases were bigger.

“Not sure the thinking on that, either, other than it moves things about three inches closer than it was,” he said.

In coming up with the change, officials have argued that making the bases bigger will lead to fewer injuries on the basepaths.

In other words, the bigger the base, the easier it is to for runners to slide around defenders.

Last year’s rule restricting shifts will continue, Wellman said, “where you have to have two infielders on each side of (second base). So, you can’t shift your third baseman or your shortstop out on the other side of the bag, or in the outfield.

“All of them have to be in the dirt. They can’t be on the grass. We did that in the second half last year.”

Wellman sounded skeptical about the changes but added, “we got to play by them, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

The universal designated hitter has been introduced as a major change in rules at the major league level this season.

Wellman said he prefers the old National League-rule, with pitchers in the nine-man batting lineup, which accentuated a manager’s role in strategy.

“If you were a National League club (in the minors), and they needed pitchers, if they got called to the big leagues they wouldn’t be completely unaware of what it took to bunt.

“We used to have to set days aside for our pitchers to hit. To bunt. We won’t be doing that any more. No need. They’re just going to pitch.”

Asked his opinion on the DH, Wellman said, “No, I don’t like it. It makes it boring managing, to be honest with you. I’ve spent most of my career in the National League, and it’s always been a challenge, it’s always been more fun managing a National League-kind of game.

“When you have a DH in the game, there’s not as much strategy. You don’t have to pay attention to where you are in the (batting) order as often. (With a DH), there’s no double-switching (on substitutions). It just removes some of the strategy.

“But, it’s still baseball.”