TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle doesn't need to a pitch clock to make sure his pitchers work at a fast pace.
That's how he wants them to work no matter what, under most circumstances. In fact, most of the coaches in the Big 12 Conference are the same way.
To make sure, the Big 12 has instituted a new 15-second pitch clock that will be operational Friday night when the Horned Frogs host Kansas State for their conference-opening series at Lupton Stadium.
TCU right-handed junior Jared Janczak (1-1, 2.32 ERA) faces right-handed sophomore Kasey Ford (3-1, 5.57) Friday night.
The pitch clock, which is located in spots on the right-center field wall and above the press box behind home plate, starts ticking if there is no one on base when the pitcher is on the dirt circle around the mound and he receives the ball back from the catcher or umpire. As soon as he begins his delivery the clock stops.
After a foul ball or any kind of dead ball, the clock doesn't start again until the umpire puts the ball back in play with his toss to the pitcher.
Hitters must be ready to hit by the five-second mark or he's assessed an automatic strike. This means a hitter has to be ready to swing with at least five seconds left on the clock, not just have one foot in the batter's box. If the pitcher hasn't delivered his pitch within 15 seconds he's assessed a ball. Pitchers will get one warning before a ball is assessed by the umpire. Hitters get no warning.
The clocks will also show everyone in the stadium the 90 seconds between innings that has been in effect but in the past was clocked by the second base umpire.
"Most of the teams in our league and in this part of the country play fast anyway," Schlossnagle said after speaking at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Sports Series Luncheon at the Colonial Country Club on Thursday. "I think it's good to show the fans and people on television that we're making an effort to speed up the pace of play."
Conference play started last week with Baylor taking two of three from Texas Tech and Texas sweeping Kansas. In those two series, the pitch clock worked fine and no penalties were assessed. When the Big 12, which is the only conference employing the pitch clock, voted on using it this season, it wasn't unanimous among the nine coaches.
A couple of them were concerned about how it would be administered.
For instance, if a pitcher falls behind 2-0 in the count and needs to gather himself, the concern was that he'd be forced to throw before he's ready.
But in those instances, which also could include a night game when a pitcher might struggle to pick up the sign from his catcher, the clock operators are instructed to not start the clock until the pitcher gets back on the dirt circle. In those moments, it's left to the umpire's discretion whether he feels a pitcher is abusing the pitch clock.
The Southeastern Conference is using headsets in their catcher's masks this year to help streamline the way coaches relay pitches. The communication is only one way, from coach to catcher.
"There’s no magic clock and no magic time, but we just would like to take the dead spots out of the game as much as possible," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin told SportTechie.com. "You want to keep the natural rhythm of the game moving."
Apparently, so far, the technology is causing more delays than improving pace, with coaches suggesting mound meetings to their catcher, for example.
Schlossnagle doesn't think the clock will alter the game much, but perhaps gives umpires a little more impetus to enforce a speedy pace.
"Now that it’s out there for everyone to see the umpires don’t have any choice because the fans see it," Schlossnagle said.
Coaches aren't allowed to argue a pitch clock call by the ump. If they do, it's an automatic ejection. Coaches can argue a call if it deals with a clock malfunction or the administration of the call.
For the Frogs (11-7), the pitch clock is the least of their concerns as league play begins. Schlossnagle hopes some of the inconsistencies that have marked the club through much of the first month begin to straighten out this weekend. He reminded his players that teams can win in a lot of different ways, whether it's with dominating pitching and stellar defense, or an overpowering offense.
"I think each team has its own story," he said. "We’d all love to be the team that plays at a 70 percent clip the whole season and maybe we will be. But the goal is to play well enough to give your team a chance to be in the postseason and play your best then. Everyone around here wants it to be in the World Series and so do I."
TCU vs. Kansas State
(at Lupton Stadium)
Game 1: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Game 2: 2 p.m. Saturday
Game 3: 1 p.m. Sunday
TV: Game 2 (FSSW), Game 3 (FSSW+)