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Elephant Rumblings: MLB 2021 season will include extra-inning runner rule, 7-inning doubleheaders

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MLB news roundup

Oakland Athletics v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Good morning afternoon, Athletics Nation!

Spring training is just a week away, and some details of the upcoming season are now more clear. MLB released its health and safety protocols for the 2021 season on Tuesday, in an effort to keep everybody as safe as possible from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Much of the document covers things like testing and masks and bubbles and distancing, but there are also some rule changes that directly affect the game on the field. In particular, two of the temporary measures from last summer are being reinstated for this season.

One of them is the extra-inning runner rule, in which teams get a free baserunner on second to begin every inning from the 10th on. This is designed to avoid marathon stalemates, and to add even more drama to the extra frames. Fans got a taste of it last year, to mixed reviews.

The other returning new rule sets doubleheader games at seven innings each like they were last season, instead of full nine-inning regulation games. With the looming possibility of needing to play lots of doubleheaders, this makes it possible to finish a twin-bill much faster, which especially eases the single-day workloads of pitching staffs. The A’s played five doubleheaders last year due to various setbacks, accounting for one-sixth of their entire schedule.

Hot take: Personally, I’m not a fan of either rule. The extra-inning runner is too big of a fundamental change for me and feels like a gimmicky sell-out attention grab, and shorter doubleheader games too greatly impact pitching strategies by removing middle relief from the equation. However, I understand why these changes are beneficial in this moment in time, and if the league thinks it’ll help then I’m not going to argue. I just hope they don’t become permanent forever-ever.

Active roster sizes will revert to 26. For a long time they were 25, but last year they were going to be bumped up to 26 before the pandemic arrived and caused them to expand even further. Now they’ll settle back to where they were supposed to be in 2020, and the planned restriction on quantity of pitchers will be temporarily waived for the season. Taxi squads that travel on road trips can include up to five players (the fifth one must be a catcher), and if a team has an outbreak then there will be special consideration for roster transactions so that replacements don’t have to burn options or later get DFA’d.

Two other topics are notably not part of the plan for 2021. At this moment there is still not a universal designated hitter, and the postseason is still limited to the normal 10 teams rather than being expanded like it was last fall.

Oakland A’s pitchers and catchers have their first workout next Wednesday, on Feb. 17. The regular season begins with Opening Day on April 1. One more note on the topic of spring training, regarding the Giants but still relevant to the A’s and anyone who plays in the Cactus League:

A’s Coverage

MLB News & Interest

MLB Transactions

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... and optimism regarding his health

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