Seven-inning doubleheaders could be a way for big league teams to squeeze more games into a condensed season without exhausting pitching staffs, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins suggests.
Opening Day has been postponed until at least mid-May because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Blue Jays were set to begin the 2020 season at home against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday afternoon.
Atkins pitched in Cleveland’s minor league system for five seasons before becoming the Indians’ assistant director of player development. He was hired as Toronto’s general manager in December 2015.
College and minor league teams typically play seven innings in each game of a doubleheader.
Twin bills are rarely scheduled in the majors. But Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black said last week that frequent doubleheaders might be necessary to help fit more games into a shorter window, and New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone brought up seven-inning doubleheaders as well during a conference call Wednesday.
“I think there’s probably some interesting, creative ways to potentially [modify the schedule],” Boone said. “Talk of doubleheaders and whatnot. If you go that route and end up doing a lot of doubleheaders, do you do it the minor league way where you’re doing seven-inning doubleheaders? Those kinds of things. It is an opportunity probably to be creative or to try some things that people think could stick a little bit or be a segue to something different down the line. It is certainly probably an opportunity to try some things that you wouldn’t otherwise try in a normal 162-game setting where everything is going off according to plan.”
Asked what he saw as potential solutions to scheduling issues, Atkins mentioned shorter games in doubleheaders.
“Maybe that’s something we have to consider,” he said on a conference call Wednesday.
By averaging nine games per week, a team could play 162 games in 18 weeks, eight fewer weeks than in a usual season. That means Major League Baseball could start as late as July and play a full schedule by extending the regular season through October.
Still, even Atkins isn’t entirely sold on the idea.
“You’re not playing the game that is written in the rulebooks,” he said. “It’s not the regulation game; it’s a different game. Bullpens and teams are built in a way to play nine innings. I’m sure there are people that would challenge that, and I’m not so sure it’s something we should do.”
Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire also said it’s too soon to make determinations.
“There’s been lot of things thrown out there. I mean, goodness gracious, everybody comes up with what could happen, might happen, should happen,” he said. “I think the easiest way for me is just let it ride itself out, and eventually they’re going to come up with a plan and tell us.”
“I’m currently negotiating with Al on my contract that I only do one game a day,” Gardenhire joked, referring to Detroit general manager Al Avila. “If you’re going to play a ton of doubleheaders, there’s got to be roster decisions.”
No matter how many innings get played, the likelihood of a condensed schedule will require greater roster flexibility once baseball resumes, Atkins said.
“If you’re playing multiple doubleheaders, and suppose they are nine innings each, the demands on a pitching staff would be extremely significant,” he said.
Atkins declined to say how many games he feels would be necessary this season, acknowledging the complexity of the issue.
“Decreasing the number of games isn’t just about record books,” he said. “It’s more complicated than that because of compensation reasons, because of how rosters were built and the resources that were poured into the planning to get where we are today.
“It’s not just as simple as ‘OK, we have this number of days, let’s play this number of games and call it a year.'”
Atkins said baseball must take a collaborative approach to finding solutions to scheduling problems.
“What we need to do is get ideas out where people feel safe mentioning them and then work through what’s practical, what makes sense, what are the downsides — because there’s going to be downsides — and try to weigh those appropriately,” he said. “Get all of those ideas on the table and then sort through the execution of them and think about the unintended consequences and come up with a game plan that we can put in play.”
Isolated at home in Toronto after returning from spring training in Dunedin, Florida, Atkins and his staff remain focused on evaluating amateur players as best they can. The Blue Jays hold the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft.
Even with college and high school games shut down, Atkins said the Blue Jays will be ready for the draft as soon as it happens.
“We feel that we could get prepared in a short period of time based on the information that we have and be very competitive,” he said.
ESPN’s Marly Rivera and The Associated Press contributed to this report.