Rob Manfred hopeful of agreement for pace of play rule changes

Major League Baseball commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

NEW YORK — Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is hopeful the league and players’ union will agree to changes to speed pace of play.

Manfred said before Tuesday’s AL wild-card game that he’s encouraged by conversations with the union and "direct engagement with players." He declined to address specifics of a deal, but said he thinks the league and union will have an agreement that will be "meaningful."

The average time of a nine-inning game in the majors rose 4 1/2 minutes this season to a record 3 hours, 5 minutes, 11 seconds. MLB’s averaged had dropped to 2:56 in 2015.

Baseball management proposed three changes last off-season the players’ association didn’t accept, and MLB has the right to start them next year without player approval: restricting catchers to one trip to the mound per pitcher each inning, employing a 20-second pitch clock and raising the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level– at the top of the kneecap.

Manfred has said he prefers reaching an agreement with the union.

Manfred also addressed a report the league’s spike in home runs this year is tied to a change in the makeup of the baseballs. He said the league has used two labs to inspect balls and that "there has been no movement within the range of specifications."

There were a record 6,105 home runs this season, and Manfred attributed the rise in the strategy of the players. He also thinks fans are enjoying the homer increase and is happy to let the game "change naturally."

Manfred was also asked about the possibility of World Series day games and said MLB doesn’t feel compelled to schedule them. There hasn’t been one that started in the afternoon in Eastern time since St. Louis played Minnesota in Game 6 in 1987 at the indoor Metrodome. The last outdoor Series game that started in the afternoon in Eastern time was Game 5 of the ’84 Series in Detroit.

"Our goal with all our post-season scheduling is to get the biggest audience that we can possibly get and schedule the games when we can get the biggest audience," Manfred said.