Baseball Designated Runner Rule

Baseball Designated Runner Rule

Like the rest of the world, Major League Baseball (MLB) had to adapt and evolve during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included creating several health and safety protocols once play resumed in July of 2020. While many of these rules were similar to those in other areas of life, one was quite unique to baseball. In order to make sure players and teams were not on the field and near each other for longer than necessary, MLB added the designated runner rule for extra innings. The rule is discussed in greater detail below.


In baseball, there are no ties in the regular season or postseason, though ties are possible during spring training. Thus, in the regular season and postseason, if a game is tied after nine innings, a tenth inning is played, and so on until a winner is decided. In the past, games could sometimes reach 15, 16, or even more innings. However, because of the necessity of social distancing during the pandemic, playing this many innings brought players in close proximity too often.

In part because MLB did not want teams on the field in close proximity for that long, and in part because they did not want to kill pitchers’ arms in the shortened season, the MLB added the designated runner rule. The designated runner rule means that in the tenth inning, a runner is automatically placed on second base. This runner is whoever is due up ninth to bat in the inning. The idea behind this rule is that, with a runner automatically on second to start extra innings, runs can be scored easier, and games will not last as long. While it was initially only intended for the 2020 season, the designated runner rule has remained in place for regular-season games, and was officially added to the MLB Rulebook in 2023. 

Designated Runners in the Postseason

The designated runner rule is now part of the MLB Rulebook, and it can come into play in any game. There is one major exception, however, and that is for the postseason. Because the MLB does not want its playoff games being decided by a rule as unique as this one, designated runners are not used in the postseason. Thus, games can still take an extraordinary amount of time in the playoffs. In the 2022 season, for example, the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners played a playoff game that lasted 18 innings.


Example 1: The Red Sox and the Yankees are tied after nine innings in the regular season at Fenway Park. Since it is the regular season, the designated runner rule is in place. Aaron Judge is due up ninth for the Yankees in the tenth inning, so he is the designated runner who starts at second base.

Example 2: The Red Sox and the Yankees are tied after nine innings in the playoffs at Fenway Park. Since it is the playoffs, there is no designated runner rule, and regular baseball is played to determine a winner.

Example 3: The Red Sox and the Yankees are tied after nine innings in the regular season at Fenway Park. The designated runner rule is used in the tenth, and both teams score one run. The game continues to the 11th inning, as the game is still tied, and the designated runner rule is once again used.


The designated runner rule was put into place for the 2020, COVID-shortened season. Since being around others for a long period was potentially dangerous at the time, MLB looked to shorten its games as much as possible.

By adding a runner to second base to start any extra inning in the regular season, MLB hoped that there would not be many games that lasted longer than 15 innings. The rule worked, as during the 2020 season, no regular season game lasted longer than 13 innings. The league decided to keep the rule going forward (though for the regular season only) in order to help save pitchers’ arms and not have teams use a lot of pitchers in one game.

Similar Rules to Designated Runner

Below is a list of rules that are similar to the designated runner rule in baseball, in that they have been adopted recently as part of the 2023 Rule Changes:


What is a designated runner in baseball?

A designated runner in baseball is the runner who automatically starts at second base in extra innings. The rule was put in place in the 2020 pandemic season to try and limit the length of games and make sure people were not close to each other for long periods of time. It was kept after the 2020 season in order to save pitching staff arms throughout the regular season. The rule has never been used in the playoffs.