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Tony La Russa heard the boos and had a change of heart.
New rules for the outset of the Cactus and Grapefruit League schedules across Major League Baseball have shortened spring games, which last between five and seven innings. Innings, too, can be shortened, if the managers so choose, ending prior to three outs being recorded if a pitcher has thrown 20 pitches.
The idea? To keep pitchers, in particular, healthy with a restriction on the amount available to a team. In the wake of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, there's a curiosity about how pitchers will respond to a regular workload after throwing a significantly smaller amount of innings than normal a year prior.
Asked about these tweaks before Tuesday's game against the Texas Rangers, the White Sox manager said they were smart, wise and minimized the risk of someone getting injured.
Then came Tuesday's game, where the White Sox and Rangers halted numerous rallies in their tracks as the pitch counts soared. The Rangers brought early ends to the first couple innings, ending the second inning with two outs as reigning American League MVP José Abreu stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. Abreu didn't get to hit, but more impactful on La Russa was that the fans in the stands didn't get to see Abreu hit — and they let the guys in the dugouts know they weren't happy about it.
La Russa heard the boos and made a decision that the White Sox weren't going to do that anymore, if they could help it.
"Both sides had men on base when the innings were called. I just think, that's when you get fans excited, right? You score some runs, what's going to happen next? Are you going to get an out, more base hits? And all of a sudden, the inning is wiped out. And once both (teams) did it, and more, it's painful. And so it's more a question of doing right by the fans, in my opinion.
"So we'll do everything we can to avoid it. Not putting any pressure on any other teams, but we just think we will do everything we can to avoid it."
It's important to remember that spring games are exhibition contests. They don't count. Tuesday's game ended in a 5-all tie.
But much of the league is playing in front of fans for the first time in a year, when spring training was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Series was played in front of fans last fall in Texas. But teams went the entire regular season without them, making the presence of paying customers quite noticeable for everyone on the field.
Certainly, they were on La Russa's mind. Heck, they were in his ear.
"There’s all kinds of professional reasons why it makes sense, but fans are paying to come in games," La Russa said. "I know they were disappointed, they voiced it several times. So from the White Sox side, we’re going to do everything we can to avoid doing it.
"The way you do it, we’re going to try get enough protection in an inning where we can maybe bring somebody, maybe from the minicamp, so we can finish the inning and the other team can score as much as they can. It’s purely the correct thing to do for fans."
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