Where Are Yankees' Starting Pitchers During MLB Delay and How Are They Staying in Shape?
Entering the month of April, first-year pitching coach Matt Blake should be preparing for his club's second turn through the rotation with a week of the regular season in the books.
Instead, no games are on the schedule for the next several weeks, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the Yankees' starting staff is presently dispersed around the world.
So, as you can imagine, it's been a challenge for to keep tabs on each member of New York's rotation from Blake's home in suburban Cleveland.
“It's like one of those like weird dreams where you’re about to do something cool, then you wake up and it wasn't real,” Blake said on a conference call with reporters, including MLB.com's Bryan Hoch, on Wednesday. “It’s a very serious situation, but we were building and I felt like we were in a good rhythm in Spring Training. Guys were performing at a high level and were kind of coming together, getting a good rapport amongst the group. Then you kind of hit this hard stop.”
With no definitive end to the coronavirus-induced hiatus in sight – and signs pointing to a delay lasting deep into this summer – Blake and other members of the Bombers' coaching staff are doing their best to adjust to this new, unexpected norm.
“There’s no playbook here,” Blake told reporters, including Hoch. “Nobody's ever gone through it, so there's no tried-and-true recipe to fall back on.”
The Bombers' staff is comprised of a diverse group – not just in terms of their homes across the globe, but in regards to their experience in the big leagues. For the veterans, Blake and the coaches can leave throwing programs up to them. Meanwhile, it's important to have a hands-on approach with the youngest members of the rotation – like Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Loaisiga.
“The bullpens, that’s where early on I leave it up to them,” Blake explained to reporters, with Brendan Kuty of NJ.com among them. “I don’t think you need to be on a mound right now. Just given that we don’t really know a timeline, there’s a lot of other ways that we can keep them moving and putting healthy stress on [their throwing arms]."
Once this delay comes to an end, Blake expects a second Spring Training to take place, affording his pitchers and hurlers across the league a little under one month to return to game shape.
Right-hander Adam Ottavino explained earlier this week that all you can do during these unprecedented times is keep the throwing arm as close as you can to game shape, so in a moment's notice you can begin ramping it up and getting ready for a season.
Had the campaign begun on time, with the expanded 26-man roster taking effect this spring, New York would have had 13 pitchers with the big-league club. Now, should the season resume in a truncated format with doubleheaders, it's safe to expect even more roster spots available across MLB.
"If you have 15 [pitchers], it gives you some depth," Blake said to Kuty and others on the call. "I think with the way that Spring Training was run and having a good look at the bulk of our pitchers both – Major and Minor and some of the non-roster guys – we know we've got a nice roster of pitchers that will contribute here."
All in all, Blake still understands that this is far bigger than the game of baseball. Players taking care of their families will take precedence over a few extra conversations about the coming week's throwing program.
“You don't have your eyes on everybody,” Blake said. “You don't want to be burdensome because we want to give them a breather. This is something very stressful for a lot of people and there are a lot of different circumstances. They're trying to get home and take care of their families, make sure they're healthy and then still focus on baseball. I think that we've been trying to be sensitive to the idea that this isn't normal.”
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