Mike McCarthy pitched for the Portland Sea Dogs when the pitch clock was introduced for Double-A minor league teams in 2015. Now the bullpen coach for the Oakland Athletics, he has used a stop watch to help pitchers prepare for the debut of the clock in Major League Baseball this season. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

One of the biggest things Kiké Hernandez of the Boston Red Sox took from his first injury rehab game last summer with the Portland Sea Dogs was how quickly it was over.

“Games here are a little quicker than in the big leagues,” Hernandez said after playing five innings at Hadlock Field. “I didn’t expect to be done after an hour and 20 minutes of playing.”

This season, Hernandez and the rest of Major League Baseball will get to experience up-tempo baseball every day. The pitch clock that has been used at various levels of minor league baseball – including by the Sea Dogs – since 2015 will make its Opening Day debut at Fenway Park and other MLB ballparks on Thursday.

Pitchers have 15 seconds to make a pitch with the bases empty, and 20 seconds with runners on base. If they fail to do so, the batter is awarded a ball in the count. The hitter gets one timeout per at bat, and must be in the batter’s box, ready to hit, with 8 seconds left on the pitch clock. If not, he is assessed a strike.

MLB’s adoption of the pitch clock is in response to fans who want the game played at a crisper pace, rather than watching pitchers meander as they decide what pitch to throw or watching hitters adjust their gloves and padding before stepping into the batter’s box.

It marks one of most significant changes in generations for Major League Baseball, which also is restricting defensive infield shifts and expanding the size of the bases from a 15-inch square to an 18-inch square starting this season.


“What do fans want to see on the field? No. 1, fans want games with better pace. Two, fans want more action, more balls in play,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said during a news conference to introduce the new rules last fall. “And three, fans want to see more of the athleticism of our great players.”

In incorporating the pitch clock, Major League Baseball has years of data from minor league games that prove it works.

The clock was first used in Double-A and Triple-A baseball in 2015, with pitchers given 20 seconds to throw to the batter. The results were immediate. The average nine-inning game in the Eastern League, in which the Sea Dogs play, dropped by 12 minutes from the previous season to 2 hours, 38 minutes.

The Portland Sea Dogs and other Double-A minor league baseball teams have been using a pitch clock since 2015. The average nine-inning Sea Dogs game last season was played in 2 hours, 35 minutes – 20 minutes faster than Sea Dogs games in 2011. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Over the ensuing seasons, the rule was tweaked here and there and the game times tended to flatten out. But last season marked the fastest games for both the Sea Dogs and Double-A baseball since the first year of the pitch clock.


In 2022, pitchers at most minor league levels had 15 seconds to throw to batters, with 20 seconds allowed with runners on base. Across minor league baseball, the average nine-inning game in 2022 lasted 2:39, the shortest game time since 2005. The average nine-inning Sea Dogs game last year was played in 2:35, 20 minutes faster than Sea Dogs games in 2011.


Sea Dogs Manager Chad Epperson worked as a roving instructor in the Red Sox minor league system when the pitch clock was introduced in 2015. Players had to adjust on the fly during that first season, he said, but he couldn’t recall many instances where players struggled with the rules in 2022 during his first year as Portland’s manager.

The pitch clock was used by MLB teams during spring training games this year to help players adjust, and Epperson said he witnessed more hitters violating the rule than pitchers. Major league teams that complain about the clock will be teams that will lose, he said.

“I think it’s really good for the game,” Epperson said. “Once they experience it, everybody goes, ‘Oh, OK.'”

Even though the clock was used during spring training games, some pitchers and batters – especially big league veterans who played in the minor leagues before 2015 – are likely to struggle at first to the speed of the game during the regular season. That was the case when the clock was introduced in the minors.

Washington Nationals pitcher Trevor Williams winds up to throw as the pitch clock runs during a spring training game on March 18 in West Palm Beach, Fla. With the advent of the pitch clock this year, spring training games were nearly a half-hour shorter than in 2022. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Madison Younginer was not a fan of the pitch clock while pitching for the Sea Dogs in 2015. Younginer, who made it to the big leagues with Atlanta in 2016, said he worked best when he was ahead of the batter in the count. The first time he was issued a ball for violating the pitch clock, Younginer mistakenly thought the infraction was on a hitter who was slow getting into the batter’s box.



Now out of the game and living in Charleston, South Carolina, Younginer understands the rationale behind the pitch clock.

“In hindsight, once we get to that level (the majors), we’re there for entertainment,” he said. “If this is driven by fans who don’t appreciate the speed of the game, I have to understand that.”

Mike McCarthy was a Sea Dogs pitcher in 2015 when the pitch clock was introduced to Double-A. As a pitcher who always liked to work quickly, McCarthy said the change didn’t affect his game. Now the bullpen coach with the Oakland Athletics, McCarthy used a stopwatch during spring training while monitoring bullpen sessions and live batting practice thrown by the team’s pitchers.

“They realize they have more time than they think,” McCarthy said.

Whatever the adjustment period for players, the pitch clock certainly makes a difference in the speed of games.

When Hernandez made his rehab start at Hadlock Field on Aug. 10 last year, the Sea Dogs and Richmond Flying Squirrels played a 10-inning, 1-0 Portland victory in 2:41. That same night at Fenway Park, the Atlanta Braves and Red Sox played nine innings, an 8-4 Atlanta win, in 3:06.


Kiké Hernandez of the Boston Red Sox singles to left field during an injury rehab game with the Portland Sea Dogs at Hadlock Field on Aug. 10, 2022. Hernandez’s biggest takeaway from the game was the pace of the action because of the pitch clock. “Games here are a little quicker than in the big leagues,” he said.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“It’s gotten a little shorter as they figured out what they wanted,” said Geoff Iacuessa, general manager of the Sea Dogs. “It’s certainly part of the game now. It accomplished what they wanted to accomplish. We’re just cutting down on the dead time.”


With the advent of the pitch clock, quicker games were noticeable in spring training, too. Through Sunday’s games, the average spring training game took 2:35, as opposed to 3:01 in 2022. There were hiccups, of course. A game between Atlanta and Boston on Feb. 25 ended when home plate umpire John Libka called Braves hitter Cal Conley out on strikes with a full count and the bases loaded because Conley was not ready to hit in time.

“You want those scenarios (in spring training) to pop up. You want to learn from it,” said Epperson, the Sea Dogs manager.

In spring training, the new rules didn’t just speed up games, they enhanced the action. With a new limit on pickoff throws by the pitcher, stolen base attempts increased to 2.3 per game, up from 1.6 per game in 2022. The stolen base success rate jumped to 77.2% this spring from 71.3% a year ago. This mirrors what the Sea Dogs saw last season, when David Hamilton swiped a team-record 70 bases, using his speed to take advantage of pickoff limits introduced in the minor leagues. As a team, the 2022 Sea Dogs stole 171 bases and were caught just 43 times, an 80% success rate, up from 60.5% in 2021 and 69% in 2019.

Iacuessa said with so many big leaguers having experience with the pitch clock in the minors, the adjustments begun in spring training should make the transition to the regular season smooth. That’s been the case as players climb the minor league ladder to Portland, he said.

“Now we’re at the point where guys have been doing it in Single-A, so when they get here they’re used to it,” Iacuessa said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.