Imagine landing one of the most prestigious jobs in your profession and having it taken away by something way beyond your control.
That’s what Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake is experiencing since spring training was canceled March 12 and nobody can predict when the regular season will begin — or if it will be played at all.
“It’s like one of those weird dreams where you are about to do something cool and you wake up and you are like, ‘That wasn’t real,’ ” Blake said Wednesday on a conference call. “We were building and felt like we were in a good rhythm in spring training and guys were performing at a high level and we were coming together and then you hit this hard stop. The momentum you were building kind of lapsed. We are doing our best trying to stay connected. Take it one day at a time. This is bigger than baseball. Hopefully we get back to the point where we are talking about mound visits and things of that nature.”
So instead of being in his first week of a big-league season and getting ready for the home opener against the Blue Jays on Thursday, the first-year pitching coach is in the Cleveland area keeping in touch with coaches and pitchers.
“The challenging part right now is that you don’t have your eyes on everybody and you don’t want to be burdensome,” Blake said. “This is something that is very stressful for a lot of people. We have been trying to be sensitive to the idea that this isn’t normal and we can’t expect everybody to be throttled up the whole way whenever this goes ’til. Try to give them some perspective of what is normal for them from a throwing standpoint.”
What might be good for one arm may not feel comfortable for another.
“Everybody has a different bandwidth of volume they are working on. Gerrit [Cole] isn’t a high volume-based thrower but he works at a high intensity so Gerrit’s workload is probably smaller than some other guys,” Blake said. “Where [Masahiro Tanaka] might have a higher workload but lower intensity. Trying to find the right balance for each of those guys. And also get some guys a weighted-ball program who can’t get outside or don’t have access to throwing partners. So trying to find the best balance for everybody given that we don’t have a destination we are heading towards right now.”
Blake said James Paxton is going through his return-to-throwing progression in Wisconsin. Paxton had offseason back surgery and began playing catch before spring training ended.
Because nobody knows if or when a second spring training will start, Blake has left it up to his pitchers whether they wanted to throw bullpen sessions. Not every pitcher has access to a mound or a catcher.
“Early on I told guys it was up to them. I don’t think you need to be on a mound right now given that we don’t know the timeline,” Blake said. “But I do think there are some guys who benefit from being on the slope and keeping their delivery in rhythm.”
Blake said he also is concerned the indefinite timetable could lead to injuries once pitchers do return.
“I think there is definitely a possibility of it, just like any start and stop,” he said. “You see this more at the amateur level where they go to a fall season and then a shutdown and a spring season or they go spring to summer. In [major league] baseball you see it right at the beginning of spring training or the beginning of April when guys are getting their feet underneath them. Any time you stop and idle guys and ramp them back up that’s where the concern would be. If you do it too quickly and don’t have enough of a base to fall back on you end up with stress the arm is not prepared for.”