A's Emerson Having His Pitchers Do What's Best in Time of Pandemic

John Hickey

It’s been a couple of weeks now since Oakland A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson has seen any of his pitchers. It will be longer still until he and they are reunited on the other side of the break Major League Baseball is taking in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Emo, as his pitchers call him, could have saddled his guys with a bunch of instructions for ways to spend the downtime.

He didn’t. Instead, he and the A’s opted to make it about as simple as possible.

“Basically, the only real instruction I gave them is that the health, safety and well-being of them and their families had to be their No. 1 priority,” Emerson said from his home in North Carolina. “Baseball is secondary.

“If you are able to do something, that’s great. If not, that’s fine too. Everybody’s different. Some guys are able to play catch, but most of it so far was making sure they got to a safe place and to be around their families. We’ll get more into it as we learn what’s going to happen. There really hasn’t been that much instruction or a program put in place as of yet.”

As the “yet” suggests, a program could be coming.

“We are working on that,” Emerson said. “I told the pitchers there’s no need to overdo themselves, but if you can keep yourself active, that would be a plus.”

Emerson, who has talked to each member of the pitching staff at least twice and who plans weekly talks with everyone, said that so far, at least, everyone is healthy.

Asked if he thought the time off would be advantageous in particular to rookie left-handed starter A.J. Puk, Emerson was cautious. Puk had early spring shoulder pain, was shut down for about a week and then resumed throwing. Had the season begun as scheduled – Thursday would have been opening day – Puk probably would have been in the bullpen. This extra time off will make him more competitive for a starting job.

“As for A.J., a lot of this buys guys some time throughout the league,” Emerson said. “The important thing is the ramp-up part. We don’t want anybody to go too fast too soon with all the pitchers, especially the guys who had a little setback in spring training. How fast do you want to ramp them back up? That’s a concern.

“When we get a date and possible start time, that will benefit us. If they just say (report) in a week and it would be two weeks (of additional spring training), it would a tricky situation. You would really have to identify what guys have been doing during this layoff and make sure they are healthy. That’s the No 1 priority.”

After the 1995 spring training lockout, clubs were given about three weeks of training to get ready – and back then, there had been no organized workouts, so it was three weeks from the first stretching and workout until opening day. Emerson said three weeks might be enough now, and he says he expects all the players would be further along than in 1995.

“Most teams have between a 6- and 10-week throwing program in the offseason to get the guys ready to go,” he said. “The pitchers have already completed that, and they’ve been in a spring training setting for a while. I think (three weeks) could be doable. Obviously, the more time you get the better. It all depends on how much throwing these guys are able to do in this crisis.”

In the meantime, Emerson wants he players to practice their social distancing. He and his wife, Jill, are both at home, Jill being able to work from home instead of her office. And their dog, Coco, is thrilled this unexpected bonanza.

“Coco’s loving having both of us home now,” Emerson said. “He’s getting lots of walks.”

Hey, everybody needs exercise.