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Discussing MLB rule changes with former New York Yankees pitcher Neal Heaton

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By Vinny Messana

The new CBA brought some new rules for 2022. As is usually the case, the pushback from the fans was swift.

Neal Heaton, a 12-year Major League Baseball veteran who pitched for Sachem High School in the late 1970s, shared his opinion on some of the changes. He is a former coach at Bellport High School and now gives private pitching lessons to young athletes.

A former New York Yankee, he was lukewarm on some of the rule changes, and adamantly opposed to others.

Rule Change: Universal Designated Hitter

“I have mixed feelings about this one,” said Heaton, a career .171 hitter with 208 plate appearances with the Montreal Expos and Pittsburgh Pirates.

“On one hand, it makes the game easy for a manager — no more double switches,” he continued. “Like in the American League when they would put out nine guys that can mash. It becomes very easy to manage. Takes the strategy out of the game. You get a lead, you bring in a set up man, and then your closer.

On the positive side, it means more jobs, said Heaton, an All-Star pitcher in 1990 while going 12-9 for the Pirates.

“Some older guys can hit for another three years if they don’t have to play the field. Plus some pitchers really don’t even try to get a hit,” he said. “Pitchers pull muscles all the time. Now, there are some good hitters like [Jacob] deGrom, so it could hurt a team like the Mets.”

Rule Change: Expanded postseason

“It starts to feel like little league where everyone gets a trophy,” said Heaton, 62, of East Patchogue. “But it’s good for the fanbase and attendance.”

Potential Rule Change: Banning the Shift

“I hate shifts,” Heaton said. “There will be a lot of controversy with this one. But there’s nothing worse than ripping one [up the middle] past the pitcher, and the shortstop or second baseman is right there [to field the ball behind him].”

Instant Replay

Heaton said he hates instant replay — that it’s time consuming.

“Some of these things take three, four, even five minutes. Why do we even have umpires?” he said “I can see it in the playoffs with a fair or foul home run, but that’s it.”

Pitch Clock

Heaton, a former No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft, is not a fan of the pitch clock rule.

“Even if it’s enough time to pitch – just the thought of it,” he said. “If they want to speed the game up, eliminate the replays. Some guys work slower than others.”

Rule Change: The return of the nine-inning double-header

“Thank God they got rid of the seven-inning games,” he said.

On the Explosion of Strikeouts

“I would’ve loved to pitch in this era,” Heaton said. “These free swingers are beautiful to get out.

Javy Baez — you think he cuts down on his swing? [Anthony] Rizzo is an example of how hitters used to be when I played. Cuts down with two-strikes and puts the ball in play,” Heaton continued. “Nobody comes to the park to see guys hit .340. I played against those guys for 12 years. Gwynn, Wade Boggs, George Brett. Those guys are tough to get out because they shorten up and don’t strike out.

“Between the hitters approach and pitchers being better, it has suffocated offenses,” Heaton added.

“There was 10 guys in the whole league that threw 96 mph. Now every team has 10. The training, the nutrition, the eating, all better.”

Feature photo: Cleveland Guardians catcher Austin Hedges, left, and umpire Matt Winter pause behind home plate during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)