NEW YORK — Seven-inning doubleheaders and runners on second base to start extra innings will return for a second straight season under an agreement for 2021 health protocols reached Monday between Major League Baseball and the players’ association.

The deal did not include last year’s experimental rule to extend the designated hitter to the National League or expanded playoffs. After allowing 16 teams in the postseason last year instead of 10, MLB had proposed 14 for this year before withdrawing that plan last month.

Last year’s expanded playoffs agreement did not come together until hours before the season’s first pitch.

There were 78 extra-inning games last year, and the longest by innings were a pair of 13-inning contests at Houston, won by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 29 and by Oakland on Aug. 7. Every previous season since 1901 had at least one game of 15 innings or longer.

There were 45 games postponed for COVID-19-related reasons and just two were not made up, between St. Louis and Detroit. In order to accomplish that, there were 56 doubleheaders, the most since 76 in 1984. About 12% of games were part of doubleheaders, the highest percentage since 13.6 in 1978.

The agreement includes more sophisticated contact tracing for COVID-19 that includes the use of technology, and more league rules on behavior to comply with novel coronavirus protocols.

Spring training opens Feb. 17 and the season starts April 1. The union last week rejected MLB’s proposal to delay spring training and opening day until April 28, a plan that would have led to a compressed schedule of 154 games per team instead of the usual 162.

Last season’s start was delayed from March 26 to July 23 because of the pandemic, and each team’s schedule was cut to 60 games.

• Major League Baseball has slightly deadened its baseballs amid a years-long surge in home runs.

MLB anticipates the changes will be subtle, and a memo to teams last week cites an independent lab that found the new balls will fly 1 to 2 feet shorter on balls hit over 375 feet. Five more teams also plan to add humidors to their stadiums, raising to 10 of MLB’s 30 stadiums expected to be equipped with humidity-controlled storage spaces.

A person familiar with the note spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because the memo, sent by MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Morgan Sword, was sent privately. The Athletic first reported the contents of the memo.

The makeup of official Rawlings baseballs used in MLB games has come under scrutiny in recent years. A record 6,776 homers were hit during the 2019 regular season, and the rate of home runs fell only slightly during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season – from 6.6% of plate appearances resulting in homers in 2019 to 6.5% last year.

A four-person committee of scientists commissioned by MLB concluded after the 2019 season that baseballs had less drag on average than in previous seasons, contributing to the power surge. Their report blamed the spike in part on inconsistencies in seam height.

MLB’s balls are hand-sewn by workers at Rawlings’ factory in Costa Rica, leading to inevitable, minor deviations in production that can have sizeable repercussions.

The league mandates all baseballs have a coefficient of restitution (COR) – essentially, a measure of the ball’s bounciness – ranging from .530 to .570, but in recent years the average COR had trended upward within the specification range.

In an effort to better center the ball, Rawlings has loosened the tension on the first of three wool windings within the ball. Its research estimates the adjustment will bring the COR down .01 to .02 and will also lessen the ball’s weight by 2.8 grams without changing its size. The league does not anticipate the change in weight will affect pitcher velocities.

The memo did not address the drag of the baseball, which remains a more difficult issue to control.

The Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets and Boston Red Sox already have humidors. The five teams adding humidors were not identified in the memo.

OBIT: Pedro Gomez, a longtime baseball correspondent for ESPN who covered more than 25 World Series, has died. He was 58.

Gomez died unexpectedly at home Sunday, his family said in a statement. No cause of death was given.

“Pedro was far more than a media personality. He was a Dad, loving husband, loyal friend, coach and mentor,” the Gomez family added. “He was our everything and his kids’ biggest believer.”

Gomez joined ESPN as a Phoenix-based reporter in 2003 after being a sports columnist and national baseball writer at The Arizona Republic since 1997. He was best known at the network for his coverage of Barry Bonds and his pursuit of the home-run record during the steroid controversy.

He was a correspondent on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” “Baseball Tonight” and additional shows, including the network’s “Wednesday Night Baseball” package.

“We are shocked and saddened to learn that our friend and colleague Pedro Gomez has passed away,” ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement on Twitter and the network’s public relations page. “Pedro was an elite journalist at the highest level and his professional accomplishments are universally recognized. More importantly, Pedro was a kind, dear friend to us all. Our hearts are with Pedro’s family and all who love him at this extraordinarily difficult time.”

CUBS: The team might conduct more thorough background checks when deciding hires in the wake of sexual harassment accusations against former director of pro scouting Jared Porter.

President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer called the alleged incidents disturbing and said there’s “no place for them in the game.”

“I think it’s my job to make sure that every woman that works here – every woman that is a reporter for our team, every vendor, everyone that comes through Wrigley Field – has to feel like this is a wonderful environment for them to work in and they have to look forward to being here,” Hoyer said. “That has to be the standard. There can’t be any other standard. It has to be a great workplace for women, and a place that women can thrive.”

Porter was fired for cause last month as general manager of the New York Mets after 38 days on the job following a report by ESPN he sent sexually explicit, uninvited text messages and images to a female reporter in 2016 while he was working for Chicago. Hoyer said the Cubs’ investigation is ongoing and interviews were being conducted when he left last week for the team’s spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz.

Porter was with the Cubs from 2015 to 2016 before leaving to become the Arizona Diamondbacks’ assistant general manager. He previously worked for the Red Sox and a had a long history with Hoyer and former Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein from their time together in Boston and Chicago.

ANGELS: Shohei Ohtani agreed to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with Los Angeles, avoiding arbitration.

The two-way player will make $3 million in 2021 and $5.5 million in 2022. Both years are guaranteed.

Ohtani had asked for $3.3 million for the upcoming season, and the Angels had countered with $2.5 million.

Ohtani earned $259,259 in prorated pay from his $700,000 contract in 2020, but the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year struggled at the plate and on the mound in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Ohtani batted .190 with seven homers and 24 RBIs in 175 plate appearances as the Angels’ designated hitter, with his numbers declining sharply from his first two seasons in the majors.

TIGERS: Second baseman Jonathan Schoop is staying with Detroit, agreeing to a $4.5 million, one-year contract.

The 29-year-old hit .278 with eight home runs in the abbreviated 2020 season. He hit at least 21 home runs each of the previous four years.


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