TORONTO – Even with cautious optimism that a 2020 baseball season is actually being played, there are still all sorts of options.
Everything from launch dates to roster sizes to schedules is still up for debate, and even if the plans take shape in the coming weeks, the global pandemic that led to the current delay could possibly make everything fail again.
Under these circumstances, no coach can deliver the clearly structured roadmap that players would normally expect. As Toronto Blue Jays pitching trainer Pete Walker has found over the past seven weeks, flexibility has displaced certainty for those who expect a possible season.
These unprecedented circumstances present a challenge to anyone who is used to the baseball season routine. This has led to new ways of staying in shape and staying in touch. Walker's prediction that a late season could even benefit a Blue Jays team that hopes to be one step ahead after years of rebuilding.
Not only has the health of left-hander Ryan Borucki improved recently, Walker also believes the Blue Jays group of established starters may be well suited to a shortened schedule.
"If it's a shortened season, veterans can benefit," he said in a conference call with reporters on Friday morning. "In the long run, it's a bit difficult for the guys who have been doing this for a long time."
"It could benefit us in a way," added Walker. "With some of our starters that came from missed seasons – a guy like (Matt) Shoemaker for example."
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Of course, the Blue Jays aren't the only ones who could benefit from a shortened schedule. Take the Yankees, for example. Not only do they have an experienced staff, the current break will allow left-hander James Paxton to recover from the back surgery he had in February. The shorter the schedule for 2020, the more opportunities there are for upstart teams like the Blue Jays.
Either way, it's still encouraging for Walker to see that Borucki, who had pain in his surgically repaired left elbow this spring, has made progress.
"He felt great," Walker said of the 26-year-old. "This pandemic is a terrible situation, of course, but it gave Ryan the chance to somehow catch up. He made some mechanical adjustments and feels great, the arm feels great. He threw sides. If it was spring training and one Season that we hope for at this point should be in the mix and a large part of it. ”
This improvement would be significant at any time, but with the possibility of a shortened schedule, the beginning of the pitching depth could prove to be particularly valuable. If the 2020 schedule includes double heads or limited rest days, the teams will go through more pitching than ever. On this front, the Blue Jays appear to be well positioned after adding Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson and Shun Yamaguchi in the winter.
To follow these veterans, there is Nate Pearson, the best right-hander in baseball. At that point, he should have been on the edge of the big leagues after refining his off-speed gear at Triple-A Buffalo for a month. Instead, he is on hold like the rest of the baseball world.
Finally, Walker, GM Ross Atkins, manager Charlie Montoyo and bullpen trainer Matt Buschmann all have to fit together. In theory, rosters could be extended beyond 26 to accommodate a shortened schedule or a shortened pre-season. Or, each club has a taxi team of minor league players preparing nearby to ensure that reinforcements are available when injuries occur.
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It is conceivable that teams might consider structuring their employees differently to deal with the change in workload. Six-man presses? Tandem starter? More openers? Nothing is concrete at the moment. Although Walker has considered several options, it is too early to focus on one scenario.
"If we look at it now, we have a good depth," said Walker. “We have a few ways to do some things when needed. At the moment we will just wait and see. "
While waiting, the Blue Jays stay in touch with their players almost daily with zoom calls, text, and video. "You will probably get tired of hearing from us," Walker joked. Team coaches made sure players had all the training equipment they needed, and Walker gave remote feedback on some clips of jugs thrown into their homes.
Sometime in the next few months, these players are hoping for another call – one that informs them that the 2020 season can finally start safely. In the meantime, the point is to stay ready when that moment arrives.
"Nobody has a crystal ball and will see how it turns out in the end, but I think we'll do our best to prepare these guys for the remaining season," said Walker.