NEW YORK — Major League Baseball wants to see if moving back the pitcher’s mound will increase offense.

MLB will experiment with a 12-inch greater distance between the mound and home plate during a portion of the Atlantic League season in an effort to decrease strikeouts and increase offense.

The pitching rubber will be moved back to 61 feet, 6 inches starting Aug. 3 during the second half of the independent minor league’s season.

“It’s a direct response to the escalating strikeout rate, where you’re giving the hitter approximately one one-hundreth of a second of additional time to decide whether to swing at a pitch, which has the effect just in terms of reaction time of reducing the effective velocity of a pitch by roughly 1.5 mph,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations. “The purpose of the test and hope is giving hitters even that tiny additional piece of time will allow them to make more contact and reduce the strikeout rate.”

In 2019, the last full season, strikeouts set a record for the 12th consecutive year at 42,823, up 33% from 32,189 in 2007. Strikeouts exceeded hits the last three seasons after never occurring before in major league history.

MLB calculated the average fastball velocity last year at 93.3 mph and estimated the increased distance would decrease the equivalent to 91.6 mph.

The mound has been at its current distance since 1893, when the National League moved the rubber back 5 feet. Strikeouts declined from 8.5% in 1892 to 5.2% in 1893 and the batting average increased from .245 in 1892 to .280.

Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer compared these changes to the lowering of the pitcher’s mound from 15 inches to 10 for the 1969 season.

“We’ve got to do something to get more offense in the game, whether you want to talk about the mound being moved back a foot, whether you want to talk about different ways of getting rid of the shift, whether you want to talk about substances on the ball,” Hoyer said. “We need to make adjustments. The DH originally came of these adjustments. The mound being lowered came from these adjustments. And I personally am of the mind of — obviously, I love baseball, but I don’t believe the rules are written on stone tablets.”

Many baseball purists oppose changing distances on the field. Commissioner Rob Manfred has been open to considering innovations to a tradition-bound sport.

“That seems pretty drastic, but again I think those are things that, you know, sometimes the craziest of ideas end up having some traction,” New York Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. “I think that it’s important that you try these things out when you’re trying to consider different things in a league where you can kind of really take some information and see how it works out.”

Two years ago, MLB announced that Atlantic League mounds would be moved back 24 inches to 62 feet, 6 inches, for the second half of that season but then abandoned the experiment before it began. In addition, the MLB partner league will have an experimental “double-hook DH” rule in which a team would lose its designated hitter when its starting pitcher leaves the game. That will be in effect the entire season, which starts May 27, and the goal is to encourage managers to leave their starting pitchers in games longer.

TWINS: Shortstop Andrelton Simmons tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on the COVID-19 injured list Wednesday before the doubleheader against Boston.

Simmons has said he doesn’t plan to take the vaccine, which was made available in a single-shot dosage to the team at Target Field last Thursday. Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Simmons was experiencing “very mild” symptoms and resting at his home. The positive test result was received late Tuesday, after the Twins lost 4-2 to the Red Sox.

After the initial phase of contact tracing, the Twins determined no additional players needed to be quarantined. If he is asymptomatic, Simmons can return 10 days after the original test as long as he comes back negative at the end of the waiting period. Simmons was replaced on the roster by infielder J.T. Riddle, who was summoned from the taxi squad. Third baseman Josh Donaldson, out since the season opener with a strained hamstring, was expected back for the second game of the doubleheader.

BLUE JAYS: Toronto closer Julian Merryweather has been placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained left oblique. The right-hander felt discomfort in the left side of his abdomen on his final warmup pitch in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s 7-3 victory over the New York Yankees.

Merryweather entered with two runners on and two outs and threw just two pitches to Aaron Hicks before Gary Sánchez was tagged out in a rundown between first and second base after a pitch in the dirt. He didn’t return for the ninth. Merryweather has two saves and has allowed just one hit and one walk with seven strikeouts over 4⅓ innings in four appearances. His fastball has reached 100.4 mph this season.

Also, Ross Stripling was scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday against the Yankees due to right forearm tightness. He was unable to get loose before the game.

ASTROS: The Houston Astros placed second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, catcher Martin Maldonado and infielder Robel Garcia on the injured list because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

General manager James Click said he couldn’t say if a player had tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who had and that the length of each player’s absence would be determined by contract testing that is being performed.


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