Max Scherzer described pitching under the new major league rules as a "cat-and-mouse" game and, contrary to previous years, the New York Mets ace feels the pitcher finally has gained control.
"Really, the power the pitcher has now -- I can totally dictate pace," Scherzer said Sunday after his spring training debut. "The rule change of the hitter having only one timeout changes the complete dynamic of the hitter-and-pitcher dynamic. I love it."
In his first start of the Grapefruit League schedule, Scherzer was touched for a run in the second inning but struck out five while working the first two innings of the Mets' 6-3 win over the Washington Nationals.
Washington's Michael Chavis, the second hitter in the second inning, stepped out of the box when he felt Scherzer was taking too long. That was fine with Scherzer, who held the ball for more than 10 seconds before delivering the next pitch as Chavis had to remain in the batter's box, no matter the level of his impatience.
The fact that Chavis ultimately singled to right was immaterial to Scherzer, who felt he had imposed his will on the situation.
"It's a cat-and-mouse game," Scherzer said. "There's rules, and I'll operate within whatever the rules are."
The pitch clock and the new timeout regulation are among Major League Baseball's new rules designed to speed pace of play.
Players will have 30 seconds to resume play between batters. Between pitches, pitchers have 15 seconds with nobody on and 20 seconds if there is a baserunner. The pitcher must start his delivery before the clock expires. After a pitch, the clock starts again when the pitcher has the ball back, the catcher and batter are in the circle around home plate and play is otherwise ready to resume. Hitters also need to be in the batter's box with eight seconds left on the pitch clock, and they get only one timeout per plate appearance.
"I can work extremely quickly, or I can work extremely slow," Scherzer said. "There is another layer here to be able to mess with the hitter's timing."
Scherzer, 38, spoke with plate umpire David Rackley between innings Sunday to seek clarification on the rules.
"I can come set even before the hitter really is in the box," the three-time Cy Young Award winner said. "I can't pitch until eight [seconds remain], but as soon as his eyes are up, I can go.
"So I had that conversation with the umpire to make sure it's legal, and it is, so just getting used to how the game is in 2023."
According to MLB, there were 69 pitch-timer violations through the first 35 spring training games over the weekend -- including 35 violations in 16 games Sunday.
While Scherzer thinks the timer is working in pitchers' favor, hitters aren't complaining, either.
"I like it," New York Yankees star Aaron Judge said. "I think you can kind of play around with it a little bit. I think it definitely speeds up the game. Anything that kind of keeps the pitcher moving and on the go, and hopefully keep him out of breath, I'm looking forward to it."
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said the new rules ultimately will create "a better product for the fans."
"Love it. I want to be home sooner than later," Cora said. "It's a better product for the fans. ... For the game, where we want to go, it's the right thing."
St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said MLB is providing updates -- nearly in real time -- on the rules changes package that is making this spring training unique.
"They did a really nice job of sending out a memo this morning with all the things that took place yesterday and questions that players and managers that just had to be addressed in order that you can cover it with your staff and club as you feel appropriate," Marmol said. "So we did that with our staff and brought two different points with our players because they've done a really good job of communication."
There were more hiccups on Sunday throughout the Cactus and Grapefruit League games, but most took the changes in stride.
Colorado Rockies reliever Daniel Bard was called for a ball after throwing a warm-up pitch after the 30-second deadline heading into an inning. The 30-second mark before innings was also a source of confusion during the Cardinals-Marlins game. Two Cardinals pitchers were called for balls before the start of innings before, according to Marmol, and the umpires gathered and realized they were interpreting the rule incorrectly.
"It's spring training for everybody," Marmol said. "Those things will get ironed out before we get out of here."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.