Lakeland, Fla. — The way Brad Ausmus and Ian Kinsler see it, the league didn’t so much redefine what constitutes a legal slide as organize and clarify the definition on one.
“It sounds like they’re going to enforce the basic rule that was there before,” Ausmus said. “They are clearly trying to avoid injuries at second base.”
In the new policy, which was negotiated between the league and players’ association and announced Thursday, a baserunner must:
*Slide prior to reaching the base.
*Slide so you are able to and attempt to reach or touch the base.
*Slide so you are able to and attempt to stay on the base.
*Do not change your pathway to the base.
“I think they are organizing the rule a little bit to make it more descriptive for the umpires and players to kind of understand what’s obstruction and what isn’t,” Kinsler said. “Before it was basically the umpire’s discretion and every umpire see things differently. So, the rule wasn’t really solid, depending on the angle he had, the speed of the play and the time of the game.
“I just think the rule needed to be cleaned up and that’s what they did.”
The impetus for the change was a pair of high-profile collisions last season. Pirates rookie Jung Ho Kang had his season ended early when he was taken out well beyond the baseline by Cubs' Chris Coghlan.
And, in the playoffs, Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada fractured his right fibula being taken out at second by Dodgers' Chase Utley.
While Kinsler appreciates cleaning up the rule, he’s concerned the league is going down a slippery slope trying to legislate contact out of the game.
“I am definitely opposed to taking the aggression out of the game,” he said. “If we continue to take exciting plays away from the game, it’s going to be a staring contest out there. Injuries are part of sports in general.”
The league took that into consideration when they drafted the changes. They made it clear that a runner can still take out a fielder within the definition of a legal slide. He just can't go out of his way to initiate contact with the fielder.
“The only problems for me were guys sliding away from arm’s reach, that lead foot being up in the air, and late slides,” Kinsler said. “Those are three things that I think could’ve been discussed and changed or defined a little better. And that was really it for me. As long as you start your slide before the base and you’re within reach of the base, that’s fair.”
Kinsler has always gone in aggressively to break up double plays at second base. This new clarification isn’t going to alter his approach.
“I just go hard at the player, I am not trying to start my slide late,” he said. “I’m just trying to distract him from making the play. I am not there to break legs or barrel over him. My job is to break it up, make it hard on the infielder to get the ball to first.”
No more neighborhood
With a clearer definition of a legal slide in place, the league has no more need to sanction the “neighborhood play” for middle infielders.
Previously, fielders could get away with not touching the bag at second to avoid contact with the runner. They need to touch it now.
“The neighborhood play is reviewable,” Ausmus said. “You have to touch the base. Generally guys do touch the base. I mean, the runner has to touch the base, why shouldn’t the fielder have to touch the base?”
With the new rules, Ausmus said, the video review process for neighborhood play challenges becomes more cut and dry.
“The old rule was that neighborhood plays couldn’t be reviewed unless the throw took the middle infielder off the bag,” Ausmus said. “It was much more subjective. Now it’s just, he was on the bag or he wasn’t.”
Pace of play
The league will also limit mound visits to 30 seconds this season.
“That rule won’t affect me nearly as much as it affects Gene Lamont when I get thrown out,” Ausmus joked. “The average mound visit is right around 30 seconds anyway. I am not overly concerned about that one at all.”
The rule is a continuance of the pace of play rules put in before the 2015 season — limiting time between innings, keeping hitters in the batter’s box — which shortened games by an average of six minutes.
Around the horn
Miguel Cabrera took a few ground balls Friday and then abruptly left practice. Ausmus said his stomach felt bad and his head was clogged. “We have had this every spring,” Ausmus said. “I don’t if it’s pollen or allergies or some bug but it seems to hit our clubhouse in some form every year.”
… Thursday, Ausmus announced that rookie Kevin Ziomek would start against Florida Southern Monday, Matt Boyd would go Tuesday against the Pirates and that Mike Pelfrey and Buck Farmer would start the split squad games against the Yankees and Pirates on Wednesday. Here’s the rest of the week’s starters — Daniel Norris Thursday against the Braves in Orlando, Justin Verlander Friday against the Yankees at Marchant Stadium and Jordan Zimmermann will make his Tigers spring debut against his former team, the Nationals, in Viera on Saturday.