No extra innings this season in Japanese pro baseball

The 12 professional baseball teams decided Monday to end regular season games this year, which opens Friday, in the ninth inning without extra innings as a measure against the coronavirus pandemic.

If the score is tied at the end of the ninth inning, the game will end in a draw.

The state of emergency issued for Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures ended Sunday, but authorities’ requests to shorten business hours to 9 p.m. remains. In light of this, the teams aim to finish night games by 9 p.m. in Tokyo and the three prefectures by pushing up start times by about 15 to 30 minutes.

The “ninth inning system” was confirmed at a meeting of representatives of the 12 teams on Monday.

Opening Day last season was delayed by three months because of the pandemic. The overcrowded schedule was a concern and extra-inning games ended in the 10th to reduce the burden on players. Under this special rule, the average game time the last season was 3 hours and 13 minutes in the Central League and 3 hours and 18 minutes in the Pacific League.

The Yomiuri Giants opener at Tokyo Dome is set to start at 5:45 p.m., 15 minutes earlier than usual.

With no extra innings and games ending in the ninth inning even if the score is tied, team strategies are likely to change.

Clubs are expected to put their most reliable pitchers in the games sooner to create a favorable situations early on, and also use pinch-hitters to take advantage of scoring opportunities in the early innings.

Another possible scenario is reducing the number of pitchers who dress for games, while increasing the number of position players on game days.

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks boast one of the best rosters in pro baseball.

“We might start using relievers in the fourth or fifth inning,” Hawks pitching coach Ryoji Moriyama said. “It would be nice if we could send them out there in the early innings.”

Said Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara: “Since the game is over in the ninth inning, we will probably go with fewer pitchers.”