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Stephen Gonsalves pitches for the Chattanooga Lookouts during a game against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp last July at AT&T Field. Starting this season, a 15-second pitch clock will be used by minor league teams at the Class AAA and AA levels.

The duration of Chattanooga Lookouts games has shortened in recent seasons.

That trend could continue in 2018.

Minor League Baseball announced this week that a 15-second pitch clock will be implemented when no runners are on base at both the Class AAA and AA levels. Enforcement of the tweaked clock rule will start April 20, which will follow a 15-day grace period in which warnings will be issued.

Another change this season throughout all levels of the minors will involve beginning extra innings with a runner on second base.

"We believe this change to extra innings will enhance the fans' enjoyment of the game, and it will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest," MiLB president Pat O'Conner said. "Player safety has been an area of growing concern for our partners at the Major League Baseball level, and the impact that lengthy extra-innings games has on pitchers, position players and an entire organization was something that needed to be addressed."

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The extra-inning runner at second will be the player in the batting order before the leadoff batter of that inning or a substitute for that player, according to MiLB. For example, if the 5-hole hitter is due to lead off the 10th inning, the 4-hole hitter or a pinch-runner will begin the inning on second. Any batter or runner removed from a game for a substitute shall be ineligible to return, which is the case in all circumstances under official rules.

Placing a runner on second in each extra inning will hopefully prevent what transpired last July at AT&T Field, when the Lookouts defeated Birmingham 2-1 in 21 innings. Lookouts center fielder Max Murphy was the winning pitcher in a contest that took five hours and 29 minutes and finished after midnight.

"We wouldn't mind not doing that again," Lookouts media relations manager Dan Kopf said Thursday.

As for the pitch clock, pitchers now will have 15 seconds to begin their windup or motion to come to the set position when the bases are empty. The pitcher doesn't have to release the ball within 15 seconds but must begin his windup or come to the set position to comply.

All Triple-A and Double-A pitchers have worked with a 20-second pitch clock since the 2015 season, when the clocks were mandated by Major League Baseball in an effort to have pitchers work quicker in the minors with the hopes of them carrying that practice to the big leagues. Games in the majors continue to transpire in excess of three hours, however, largely due to replay reviews.

The Lookouts led all 30 Double-A teams in terms of lengths of nine-inning home games in 2014 with a bloated average of three hours and two minutes. Their average the past three years, which coincides with the clock and the changing of affiliations from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Minnesota Twins — and thus alignment with the American League rather than the National League, which does not use a designated hitter — has been two hours and 43 minutes.

"Using American League rules has resulted in fewer double switches and other things that can slow a game," Kopf said, "but there is no doubt the pitch clocks have saved us some time."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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