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Here's what Nationals fans should know about rule changes ahead of Opening Day

The Washington Nationals will take on the Atlanta Braves. Here's what to watch for.

WASHINGTON — It's almost time for baseball, Nationals fans.  The 2023 season will see some major rule changes in an effort to make America's Pastime safer for players, and make the game itself faster. Here are some of the major changes taking effect once the umpire yells "Play ball!" 

Pitch Clock

There will now be a 30-second clock between batters and there will be penalties if a pitcher isn’t ready in time. There will also be a 15-second clock between pitches when there are runners on a base and a 20-second clock when the bases are empty. Now here’s where it gets sticky. If a pitcher doesn’t at least start his delivery by the time the clock reaches zero, he will be charged with a ball. But the batters aren't safe either. The clock is for them as well. If a batter doesn’t get back into the box by the 8-second mark, he will be charged with a strike.

Major League Baseball is trying to speed up the game because the average nine-inning game in 2022 was just over three hours in length — clocking in at 3 hours and 4 minutes. Interestingly, that’s down six minutes from 2021’s 3 hours and 10-minute average but the competition committee believes the average can fall even lower with these changes. It reduced the length of games in MiLB by nearly 26 minutes.

The new pitch clock is going to undergo some timing adjustments before it is turned on for games that count.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred called the changes “significant” but also described them as “clarifications” based on input from players. The alterations are likely to be announced Wednesday, eight days before opening day.

“They’re important in my mind because they’re responsive to things players said to us,” he said before Tuesday night's World Baseball Classic championship game between the United States and Japan.

Shift Ban

The team on defense must have four players in the infield with two on each side of second base. So no more four-man outfields. Players will be allowed to move as soon as a pitch is released. Now the interesting thing about this change is how it will be enforced. If the team up to bat gets a hit while the defensive team is in violation, nothing will happen. But if the play results in an out or a sacrifice, the hitting team can accept a penalty which would add a ball to the batter’s count or they could decline it and the play would stand. 

The batting average league-wide was .244 which was the lowest since 1968. Why does that year stand out? Well, it’s widely known as the year of the pitcher in MLB. The same year Bob Gibson finished the season with a 1.12 ERA — a record that probably won’t be broken. And while there are pitchers who are good in 2023, a big reason why so many players had low averages is that their batted balls were getting swallowed by the defensive shift. The league expects batting averages to increase in 2023 thanks to this rule change.

Ryan Clary with the Locked On Nationals podcast points out that while offense will improve, the ban on the shift will make it harder on pitchers, as well as managers, like Davey Martinez.

"In a league that's obsessed with pitching, as I say, pitching is the most important aspect of baseball, this is going to make it tough for them. It's also going to make it tough for managers to manage these situations... It's going to affect the scenarios of a game, outcomes of a game," Clary said.


Stolen bases and stolen base attempts are low league-wide. With the new rule limiting disengagement by pitchers, MLB expects that to change. Disengagement means pickoffs, pickoff attempts, faking pickoffs, and any time a pitcher steps off the rubber. Even the defense requesting a time-out will count as disengagement from the rubber. They will now be limited to two per plate appearance.

If there is a third disengagement or a step off the mound, the pitcher will be charged with a balk unless a player already on a base advances a base or an out is made on the play that follows the step-off. What baseball wants is more stolen bases and attempts. This rule change resulted in more stolen base attempts in the minors.

Bigger Bases

Speaking of stolen bases, those bases are getting three inches bigger. 

This is where the safety aspect of the rule changes comes into effect. The size of the bases is increasing from 15 inches to 18 inches. MLB is hoping the change in size will decrease the number of injuries and increase stolen base attempts.

In the minors, it seems the size change alone didn’t affect much, but the size change along with the pickoff attempt limit, increased stolen base attempts, and limited injuries around the bases.

The Ghost Runner Is Here To Stay

The rule that seems to have divided Major League Baseball fans even more than the universal DH is returning permanently after a few years of hemming and hawing from the powers that be who said it was only implemented because of the COVID shortened 2020 season for safety reasons. The rule stuck around in 2021 and 2022 and now it’s here to stay. 

A runner will be on second base at the start of every extra inning beginning in the 10th inning but only in the regular season. The rule will, once again, not be part of the playoffs. The automatic runner which some people refer to as the Manfred Man doesn’t count as an earned run for the pitcher. The runner gets credited for a run scored but doesn’t get credited for time on base so his OBP doesn’t increase. The batter who drives the runner in will get credited with an RBI.

Further adjustments may be made during the season

“The ones we’re doing right now I regard to be clarifications,” Manfred said. “They were things that the rules contemplated. We just want to make sure everybody understands them. I think that the kind of issues that are alive are not issues that are going to affect the outcome of the game. Some of them relate to individual ballparks and whatnot. You can make those adjustments over the course of the season. It’s not like changing how big a bat can be.”

How To Get Tickets

The 19th season of Washington Nationals baseball will commence with a home game against the Atlanta Braves at 1:05 p.m. on March 30. Tickets are available here.

Fan-favorite Dwight “D.C.” Washington will sing the national anthem at Nationals Park on Opening Day. Washington has become a fixture in the District’s sports community, including an unforgettable performance during the 2019 World Series. The Nationals have not yet announced who will be throwing out the first pitch of the 2023 season.

 Here's a closer look at the season as a whole.

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