February 22, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Tigers think expanded replay will help baseball -- and not slow down games, either

Lakeland, Fla. -- Hello, replay.

Like it or not -- but Major League Baseball is thinking you’ll like it -- instant replay is about to become a prominent part of the game.

Or to put it another way, its presence will be more prominently felt from now on -- more than the occasional review of a disputed home run, that is.

It’s even going to be used, to a limited extent, later this spring.

The guidelines about expanded replays, and the challenges that will trigger it, were approved in January, but they became more real for Tigers manager Brad Ausmus on Friday when he attended a meeting to review the rules with managers of other teams training in central Florida.

“It’s 99.9 percent done,” Ausmus said Saturday. “But for all intents and purposes, what they gave us yesterday is what we’ll take into the season.

“It’s not that different from what was released in January.”

Managers will have one challenge they can use in the first six innings, and will retain that challenge to use again in the first six innings if it is upheld the first time they use it.

From the seventh inning on, however, replays will be called for, if needed, by the umpires only.

That will lead to tough decisions, of course: Should a team’s challenge be reserved for later innings, instead of the first three? And will that be the trend? One would think so.

But first things first: Will the process slow the game down? To some extent, of course it will. It’s a new element being introduced. There will be some kinks to work out.

But Ausmus said, “It sounds as if the challenge process is going to be quick.”

For one thing, the challenge will be reviewed at MLB headquarters in New York instead of by umpires leaving the field to watch a replay.

That’ll help.

“It doesn’t sound like it will take a lot of time,” Ausmus said, “and once it’s been decided, you can’t argue it.”

Unlike in the National Football League, there will be no red flag used -- which means that some challenges will simply come at the end of disagreements.

“But at some point,” said Ausmus, “the umpires will say, ‘Listen, are you going to challenge this or not?’

“If it’s challenged, the umpire will then point to (the communication center) behind the plate and say a challenge has been initiated.”

Ausmus would not mind a challenge flag, though.

“It would be kind of fun,” he said, “but I think they’re worried that some (managers) would throw them at the umpires.”

As for how much the game will be interrupted, Ausmus said that “based on studies, there’s a missed call every six games. So if there’s a one-and-a-half minute delay every six games, that’s not very much.

“You aren’t supposed to flagrantly delay the game if you are going to challenge. If you do, they can take your challenge away -- or you can get reprimanded.”

Knowing they have the recourse of a challenge, however, will cut down on emotional reactions by players, managers and coaches on calls they thought were bad.

“That’s why I think it will eventually speed up the game instead of slowing it down,” said Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline. “I like that they’re going to use it.”

And without emotional reactions, such as the one at Fenway Park that not only got Ausmus suspended as a Tiger, there will be fewer ejections.

“I got suspended (in 1999) for bumping Chuck Meriwether,” Ausmus said, adding that he was ejected 8-10 times in his career.

The Ausmus-suspension argument stemmed from Meriwether, the plate umpire, saying that Matt Anderson had hit Boston’s Mike Stanley intentionally in the seventh inning of what turned out to be an 8-7 loss to the Tigers.

Manager Larry Parrish was ejected as well and both were fined $500.

“Anderson hit him accidently on a 3-2 count,” Ausmus said, remembering it well. “Without a warning or anything, Meriwether tossed him out.

“I lost it. I didn’t push Meriwether, just bumped him -- accidentally.”

Ausmus believes that the vast majority of the plays reviewed “will be tag or force plays -- and I think those will be decided quickly.

“There will be some bumps in the road, but overall it’s going to be better for baseball.”

As for being a helpful tool for managers, Ausmus said, jokingly: “If I use our challenge in the second and get it wrong, then there’s a big play in the sixth, I’ll just blame our video guys.”

But expanded replay is coming -- and it’s coming before the season starts.

“They said each team will have at least five games in spring training to use the protest system,” said Ausmus.

So he won’t be new to the “when do I challenge?” question when the regular season starts.

Brad Ausmus chats with Torii Hunter as they shag balls during batting practice Saturday. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News