On Sunday the Padres open Cactus League play against the Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex. Typically, the first few weeks of Spring Training games are used for pitchers to slowly stretch themselves out (lefty Adrian Morejon is the first pitcher out of the gate for the Padres).
This year MLB is giving teams even more latitude to allow arms to get into shape, and it's going to be a little bit confusing. Here's what it says directly from the 2021 MLB Operations Manual:
Games from the start of Spring Training through March 13 will be scheduled as seven-inning games, though they can be shortened to five innings or lengthened to nine innings upon mutual agreement of both managers. From March 14 until the end of camp, games will be scheduled for nine innings, though managers can mutually decide to shorten to seven innings. Clubs must notify MLB of any game length modifications by 5 p.m. ET the day before the game.
So, that's not too complex.
The idea here is to grounded in player safety. Going from a 60-game season to a 162-game schedule is going to have an adverse effect on pitchers, especially starters, who took a year off from their usual heavy workloads. After throwing around 50 innings in 2020, asking a pitcher to jump back to 180 innings or more is very likely to drastically increase the potential for injury.
For a team like the Padres that fully expects to be in the post-season, watching their staff's workload will be extremely important. During the month-long Cactus League season, the Friars plan on trying to get as many innings under their belt as they can.
"Our goal right now is, we're doing the best we can to go for nine innings," says Padres manager Jayce Tingler. "Right now we're preparing and trying to go nine innings. Now, that can change because somebody gets scratched or you have a setback or the other team is in the same position, as well."
If the Padres want to go a full nine innings but the opposing skipper is feeling like seven, how apt will Tingler be to honor that request?
"It depends on how well I know the other manager," says Tingler jokingly. "With all seriousness, we all understand everybody's situation and kind of respect the situation. We all understand the health and safety and building these pitchers up (is important)."