Nationals start times will be earlier for weeknight home games

In a move designed to boost attendance and make it easier for fans to get home at a more reasonable hour, the Washington Nationals on Monday announced evening home games will begin at 6:45 p.m. in 2024, 20 minutes earlier than the team has started evening games in the past.

Nationals Park gates will open at 5:30 p.m. for evening games and 75 minutes before first pitch for all other games next season, with potential exceptions for games that are expected to draw larger crowds. Most of the Nationals’ day games will continue to start at 1:05 p.m., 1:35 p.m. or 4:05 p.m. First pitch for Washington’s traditional home game on the Fourth of July will be at 11:05 a.m.

“Our goal is always to deliver a top-tier ballpark experience to our fans, and that includes making sure that attending a game at Nationals Park is as convenient as possible,” Alan H. Gottlieb, chief operating officer of Lerner Sports Group, said in a statement. “Starting our evening games 20 minutes earlier, combined with MLB rules that have significantly shortened game times, makes it easier for fans to stay the full nine innings — even on a school or work night.”

The new rules, including a pitch clock, introduced in 2023 to speed up the action on the field helped shorten games by 24 minutes from the 2022 season and contributed to the league’s biggest year-over-year attendance boost since 1998. The average nine-inning game in 2023 took 2 hours 39 minutes, the shortest in 38 years.

Several teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants, began using earlier start times before 2020. The Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners were among the teams that moved first pitch for weeknight home games to 6:40 p.m. this year based on feedback from fans. While the Nationals did not conduct another formal survey of fans about start times, the team monitored how changes were received in other markets before deciding to make the switch for 2024.

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