CINCINNATI — Had Major League Baseball still been on schedule, Monday would have been the day the Reds broke camp in Arizona and headed home from Spring Training. Opening Day would have been on Thursday.
Instead of helping prepare his pitchers for the start of the regular season, Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson finds himself home in Nashville doing creative tasks to help his guys.
“I’m doing some tutorials on how to tie tubing to fences, so you can use it for your shoulder warmups and arm exercises and things like that,” Johnson said on Monday. “[Also] how to hang a net. But I think it’s really important that our guys learn how to improvise.”
For pitchers that grew up having access to great facilities and later, all the technology that comes with the big leagues, that could be quite the adjustment.
“We don’t have too many farm boys that just grew up in the middle of nowhere that had to improvise for everything they do,” Johnson said. “I’m not trying to paint this rosy-colored picture or anything, but at the same time, I’m trying to look for positives. One positive that I can see coming out of this is if we learn how to improvise, how to train, how to fend for ourselves a little bit, I think it shows up in our game and makes us better.”
After dispersing amid the coronavirus pandemic that shuttered Spring Training and delayed the regular season by at least eight weeks, the Reds have done their best to stay in touch with players.
The club set up social media channels on What’s App for the players and coaches to communicate and created sub-channels for the pitchers and position players. Via the app, the team can provide updates on the pandemic, testing and just checking in about how workouts are progressing.
“In terms of monitoring what guys can and can’t do, there are just so many things right now that are unprecedented and unknown,” Johnson said. “We have guys literally all over the country and even in a couple of different countries. Where they live has some places to train more than others. We have some guys who are really stuck right now and don’t have a whole lot of places to train and things like that. Right now, it’s mostly monitoring their health and making sure they’re not coming down with anything.”
Of course, the biggest variable facing the Reds is how much time would it take for their pitchers to return to the form they had as they neared the end of Spring Training. Starters were getting 57-75 pitches and their next outings would taken them to between 75-80 pitches. Most relievers already had five or six of their nine or 10 scheduled appearances.
The longer the layoff, the longer a second Spring Training would be needed to ramp up the pitchers.
“I think everyone understands that because injuries, this could definitely be a situation where injuries become a factor if we don’t do it the right way,” Johnson said about a question of what renewed preparations might look like.
Once MLB determines a schedule length for the regular season after the end of the pandemic, the need to improvise could continue.
“I think it could be really interesting,” Johnson said. “I think there's all sorts of different combinations that you could look at here and they can all make some sort of sense.
“Being a former college coach, I look at that 56-game schedule and say it's not really a marathon, it is a sprint. We look at Major League Baseball and it's the complete opposite. We look at it like it's a marathon and there's this long period of time where we're kind of grinding through things. This thing may look like a really short spring.”