Rule changes could affect Phillies' Odubel Herrera

Odubel Herrera’s minor-league manager used to bug him about the amount of time he took between pitches. Pete Mackanin has his gripes, too. The Dodgers, during last week’s visit to Citizens Bank Park, aired their complaints.

“Even their manager was trying to hurry me up,” Herrera said.

Herrera is the National League’s slowest batter. He averages 29 seconds between each pitch, two seconds longer than last season when he was the fifth-slowest batter in the majors. He steps out of the batter’s box. He adjusts his helmet. He calls time. He blows into his hands. He straps his batting gloves.

But it all has a purpose. Herrera plays his game within the game to rustle the opposing pitcher.

His game could be coming to an end.

Major League Baseball will introduce rule changes this winter to help quicken the game. Average game times this season — 3 hours, 5 minutes for a nine-inning game — are 15 minutes longer than 10 years ago. The new rules have yet to be announced, but they could force a batter to stay inside the batter’s box or even employ a clock that times when a pitch must be thrown. Herrera’s routine will have to change.

“I’ll adjust if they change the rule or if they make it a rule,” Herrera said. “I’ll adjust to it. I don’t think I have a choice there.”

Herrera is one of 47 players this season to average 25 seconds or more between pitches. In 2008, just seven batters took that much time. The speed of the batters — and the pitchers, too — has certainly helped stretch games to record lengths. The new rules will not ultimately solve the pace-of-play issue, but they will help.

“It bothers me. I don’t like it. But that’s who he is,” Mackanin said. “I know what he’s doing. That’s the way he is. We’ve talked about it over the last couple years. It bugs me, too. We look at each other sometimes and say, ‘What is he doing? What’s he thinking about?’ But you look at the numbers and look at how good he is in the outfield — not everyone is a perfect clone.”

It is easy to misread Herrera as being aloof or carefree. But watch his at-bats. Herrera came to the plate last week against the Dodgers with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Phillies trailing by a run. He ran his cleats in the dirt, rubbed his bat, knocked the dirt off his cleats, took a few practice swings, tapped his cleats again, and finally stepped into the batter’s box.

Pedro Baez fired ball one, and Herrera stepped out of the box. He adjusted his batting gloves, played with the dirt, knocked his cleats, and swung at the air. The Dodgers hollered from their dugout and the plate umpire hollered back. Herrera was winning.

He took ball two, glanced into the visiting dugout, and watched ball three. Herrera then walked around the home-plate circle, took some more swings, and tapped his cleats. He stepped to the plate and then called time and stepped away. It felt like he was trolling now. The pitch finally came, and it was ball four. The at-bat was just four pitches, but it lasted 2 minutes, 39 seconds. Herrera flipped his bat and clapped to the Phillies dugout. The score was tied. Herrera had won what might prove to be one of his final games within the game.

“It can benefit me and my teammates if I can get into the pitcher’s head. You don’t want to him to be comfortable,” Herrera said. “You want him to try to do something extra, to want to try harder. And maybe by trying harder, he may make a mistake and get upset. The idea is  not let him be comfortable on the mound.”