Scuffing baseball tops MLB rules changes

NEW YORK -- A major league position player who scuffs or defaces a baseball would be ejected and receive an automatic 10-game suspension under changes approved Friday by the sport's playing rules committee.

Previously, the penalty was to call the pitch a ball and warn the player. For pitchers, umpires have the discretion to issue only a warning if they determine the pitcher's actions weren't intended to alter the characteristics of a pitch.

As part of the first changes to baseball rules since 1996, the committee approved a recommendation from general managers to largely eliminate tie games.

Before this year, when an official game was called due to weather and the score was tied, the statistics counted and a new game was replayed from the start. Under the change, when a game is tied in the bottom of the fifth inning or later and is called because of weather, it will be suspended and resumed before the next scheduled game between the teams at the same ballpark.

If no more games remain between the teams at the same ballpark, it will be resumed when the teams meet at the visitor's ballpark. If it is the final scheduled meeting between the teams, it will be replayed from the start if it is needed to determine a postseason berth.

Under another change, a player may no longer step into a dugout to catch a foul ball. He still will be allowed to reach into a dugout.

A batter running to first base also will be allowed to exit the 3-foot lane in foul territory "for the sole purpose of touching first base," and a batter will lose the ability to run to first on a dropped third strike if he leaves the dirt circle around home plate unless he does so while trying to reach first base.

Previously, a player could run to first until he reached the dugout or his defensive position.

In another change, a batter who hits an apparent game-ending home run with less than two outs would be allowed to circle the bases if a runner ahead of him doesn't continue to home plate, thinking the game is over. If there are two outs when the play begins, however, the runner who abandons trying for home plate would be the third out and the home run would not count.

Another change allows pitchers to wear a multicolored glove if the umpire determines it isn't distracting. And a pitcher in the stretch position instead of a windup with no runners on base no longer will have to come to a complete stop.

With no runners on, a pitcher will be required to pitch within 12 seconds, the timing starting when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the batter's box, alert to the pitcher.

In addition, several changes were made to the scoring rules.