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Technology boosts pitchers for new baseball season

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Freddie Freeman has bolstered the Los Angeles Dodgers batting line-up after joining in the close season./AFP
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Apr 06, 2022 - 08:10 AM

LOS ANGELES — Pitchers and catchers will be given the option of using new technology to prevent sign-stealing as Major League Baseball looks to move on from its scandal-plagued recent past when the delayed new season finally gets under way on Thursday.

Five years after the Houston Astros claimed a controversial World Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball chiefs said Tuesday that clubs will be allowed to use new “PitchCom” equipment that has been successfully tested during Spring Training.

PitchCom is wearable technology that allows catchers and pitchers to communicate directly without needing to use hand signals — the traditional method of signaling what kind of pitches a batter will face.

Under the new technology, catchers wear a sleeve on their forearm with nine buttons that represent different pitches and the location where they will be thrown.

Messages from the catcher’s device are transmitted to a receiver fitted in the pitcher’s cap.

The Astros were fined $5 million and manager A.J. Hinch was suspended for a season after the MLB found the club had been using a camera hidden in the outfield to decode the signs being used by the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series.

The new technology — which is also aimed at speeding up the pace of play — has received broad support since being tested.

“Anything that can help the pitcher get the sign without anyone knowing what the sign is, we’re moving in the right direction,” was the verdict of Colorado Rockies director of pitching Steve Foster.

New York Yankees ace Luis Severino tested the system for the first time last weekend and was impressed.

“I think it was great,” Severino told reporters. “I was a little doubtful at the beginning, but when we started using it, it was really good. You know what pitch you’re going to throw right away.”

Thursday’s opening round of regular season fixtures comes after an acrimonious off-season dominated by the labor dispute between MLB owners and players.

Dodgers favored 

The season had been due to start on March 31 but was delayed after negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement became deadlocked.

The dispute came to an end last month after both sides reached agreement on a new deal that includes increased minimum salaries, a pre-arbitration bonus pool to reward top young players before they can negotiate new deals and a boost to the league’s luxury tax thresholds.

Designated hitters will replace batters in the National League, as they have for many years in the American League.

An expanded playoff format will see 12 teams advance, six from each league, adding two clubs to the post-season championship chase.

The two top division winners in each league would receive first-round byes.

Bookmakers have installed the Dodgers as early favorites to repeat their World Series triumph from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

The Dodgers pulled off one of the coups of the off-season by prizing star first baseman Freddie Freeman away from the reigning champion Atlanta Braves.

Freeman, the National League Most Valuable Player in 2020, gives the Dodgers’ already formidable batting line-up another weapon as they chase an eighth World Series.

Although the Dodgers have not strengthened their starting rotation, and doubts continue to swirl around the availability of pitcher Trevor Bauer, who has effectively been frozen out of the league since the emergence of lurid allegations concerning his private life last year, the NL West powerhouses can still call on Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias from the mound.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts believes if his starters can stay healthy in 2022, his team will win a second title in three seasons.

“We are winning the World Series. Put it on record,” Roberts said last month.

“We are winning the World Series if our starting staff stays healthy. I know that’s vague, but that’s my answer. I think it’s about our starting pitching, just keeping our guys healthy.”

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