By LUKE O’ROARK | Loroark@postregister.com
When the Idaho Falls Chukars and Grand Junction Rockies went to extra innings Friday at Melaleuca Field, Chukars fans saw something they probably haven’t seen: a free base runner starting on second at the start of every extra inning.
In March, the National Association of Professional Baseball incorporated a new rule regarding extra innings: if a minor league game goes to extra innings, both teams start with a base runner on second at the beginning of inning. The base runner at second is the inning’s leadoff hitter and is statistically counted as runner who’s reaching on an error (for purposes of determining earned runs), but no errors shall be charged.
This new policy was seen at Melaleuca Field for the first time Friday in the Chukars’ 7-6 12-inning win.
Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said the new rule doesn’t change their offensive gameplan much. Before Kyle Isbel ended the game with an RBI single to left field, both teams utilized small ball tactics. While the rule isn’t necessarily new to the minor league system — Ramirez said the Arizona League utilized the rule last summer — he was supportive of the new overhaul, as it saves team’s pitching and has the potential to keep players healthy.
“It depends on the hitter. Are we bunting or not?” said Ramirez when asked if strategies change due to the new rule. “Like, we’re not going to bunt when (Reed Rohlman) came to bat. Because he can get a double, hit it. With (Offerman Collado) or (Tyler James) we can bunt it. It depends on the hitter.”
“Let’s see how long it stays,” Ramirez added.
The policy was created to try to keep players healthy, as well as speed up minor league games. The average time of a nine-inning game in the minor leagues was two hours, 45 minutes in 2016 and 2:29 last year, according to ESPN.
Friday’s game, while anecdotal, finished in three hours, 58 minutes.
“We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the game and will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest,” NAPBL president Pat O’Conner said in a March 14 report from ESPN. “Player safety has been an area of growing concern for our partners at the Major League Baseball level, and the impact that lengthy extra innings games has on pitchers, position players and an entire organization was something that needed to be addressed.”
Chukars’ designated hitter Nate Eaton said he was unaware of the rule change until Friday.
“I honestly didn’t know (about the new rule) until they said that I was the base runner when I went out there,” said Eaton, who finished 4 for 5 at the plate with two doubles. “I probably haven’t had that since I was 12-years-old. I mean, I don’t agree with the rule because I don’t think it should be easier to score runs quicker. If the game is going that long, it’s going that long for a reason and that’s because good baseball is being played, or bad baseball is being played on one side.”
Eaton said the game could be just as prolonged due to how offensive-orientated minor league games are.
“Oh yes, because you could easily score off a bunt and then a hit or sacrifice fly. Or go 0-0, just like we did there, and it keeps going,” Eaton said.
Standings (as of June 30th)
Pioneer League North
Great Falls Voyagers (CWS) 8-6
Helena Brewers (MIL) 8-6
Missoula Osprey (ARI) 7-6
Billings Mustangs (CIN) 4-9
Pioneer League South
Idaho Falls Chukars (KC) 10-5
Ogden Raptors (LAD) 9-6
Grand Junction Rockies (COL) 6-9
Orem Owlz (LAA) 5-10
J.C. Cloney, Kyle Isbel and Jose Caraballo.
After his batting average hit a lowly .111 on June 19, Caraballo has garnered a hit in eight-straight games for Idaho Falls. He’s gone 12-35 at the plate since his hitting streak started.
For Cloney, the 2017 ninth-round pick out of Castaic, Cali., has molded into the Chukars’ ace. The reliable southpaw is 3-0 with an ERA of 1.35. He’s struck 21 batters out — including 11 during his first start — and has allowed three earned runs on 14 hits.
As with Isbel, he’s batted .372 since joining the Chukars on June 19. He went 3 for 6 Friday night and gave the Chukars their third-straight win after hitting in Tyler James with an RBI single to left field in the bottom of the 12th.
Tyler Gray. In his first two starts with the Chukars, Gray owns a 15.88 ERA. He’s allowed 10 earned runs on 11 hits in 5.2 innings of work. He’s struck out seven and walked two.
Recent transactions (from June 24 to June 30)
– Left-handed pitcher Derrick Adams was assigned to Idaho Falls from Burlington on June 28.
– Right-handed pitcher Daniel Duarte was loaned to Idaho Falls from Tigres de Quintana Roo on June 30.
– Second baseman Carlos Diaz was assigned to Idaho Falls from the AZL Royals on June 30.
– Idaho Falls released left-handed pitcher Michael Messier on June 30. Messier was with the Chukars for 18 days (June 12).
– Idaho Falls released left-handed pitcher Joey Markus on June 30. Markus was with the Chukars for 18 days (June 12).
Idaho Falls is amidst a four-game away series at Ogden. The Chukars will be back Wednesday, July 4, to host Orem for three games. First pitch Wednesday is 4:30 p.m.