Setting up spring training to get pitchers ready isn't easy in any year. The World Baseball Classic being played in 2017 makes it more difficult.
PEORIA, Ariz. — It lingers over everything that Mel Stottlemyre does or plans for his pitchers. No matter how much he would love to ignore it or hope it would suddenly be canceled, the World Baseball Classic is going to happen this spring. And as pitching coach, Stottlemyre is dealing with the ramifications of having his No. 1 and No. 5 starter, his closer and possibly his No. 4 starter all leaving camp at some point to pitch for their respective countries.
“It’s chaotic,” he said. “You have to balance everything. You have to know their time schedule and when they have to get their stuff done. And then you have to balance between that with what they’ve done in the winter. You hope they’ve done their work, getting their innings and pitches built up while letting them do what they need to do with the WBC.”
The WBC affects how Stottlemyre schedules bullpen sessions and the projected starts of pitchers in Cactus League games, forces teams to carry extra pitchers in big league camp and leaves coaching staffs and front offices in constant fear of a player getting injured.
“You never want to pull for their teams to be knocked out, but would it be a bad thing?” Stottlemyre joked.
The Mariners have 11 players on WBC rosters, including Felix Hernandez (Venezuela), Yovani Gallardo (Mexico), Edwin Diaz (Puerto Rico) and Drew Smyly (USA). Of the four pitchers, Hernandez, Gallardo and Diaz are on the primary rosters and will leave around in the first week of March to join their teams. Smyly is listed in Team USA’s designated pitcher’s pool, meaning he could be added to the roster if the U.S. advances out of pool play.
That means they all have to be ready to compete at a high level when WBC pool play opens on March 6. Stottlemyre must set up the their bullpen sessions and Cactus League starts, accordingly. For example, Hernandez will pitch Venezuela’s pool play opener in Jalisco, Mexico against Puerto Rico on March 9. That means he will have to get Hernandez two Cactus League starts — a total of four innings pitched — before then. Gallardo will also need a similar build up. While Smyly won’t pitch in the early WBC games, he would still need to ready himself on a similar path for the more advanced games in the semifinals.
“I’m going to sit down with the starters individually and find out what their needs are,” he said on report day or pitchers and catchers. “For most of them, they’ll be starting a little earlier. They have to. You try not to cut out all the preliminary work and things that you feel are important to get pitchers ready and not cut that out. You just have to start that earlier. The communication in the winter and making sure they are doing their work before coming into camp. They’ll be a little farther along then they ever have in the past.”
And with all of this going on, Stottlemyre can’t forget about the other pitchers projected for his rotation, his bullpen and in camp. He must make sure they are also getting ready on the proper schedule for a spring training that is about a week longer than usual. It left him staring at a calendar and a notebook full of notes on pitcher’s schedules and needs in the days leading up to the WBC.
“It’s a long spring,” he said. “In terms of starters, you certainly don’t want to add a bunch of innings on the guys if you can help it. You know how the season can go and the demands of that. We just have to deal with it. Everyone is a little different in how they prepare and what they need.”
To balance the departures, Seattle is carrying a few extra pitchers in big league camp. They’ll help soak up some of the Cactus League innings.
Stottlemyre’s biggest concern is Diaz. The 22-year-old closer will handle the same duties for Puerto Rico. While the WBC has rules on reliever usage, the Mariners want Puerto Rico manager Alex Cora to have certain boundaries with Diaz. They don’t want him overused. It’s why they kept him from throwing in winter ball. A year ago, Diaz was converted from starter to reliever and ascended from Class AA to the big leagues. While he was dominant enough to earn the closer’s job as a rookie, he also showed signs of fatigue late in the season. The Mariners want to avoid that.
“For a young guy, you know how he’s going to get used over the course of the season,” Stottlemyre said. “He’s going to have a monster impact on this club and how far we go — the demands of that with the role change, things are still new to him. This is his first major league camp. We’ve got to get him ready for the WBC and still in the back of our mind control the innings and outings. We are going to communicate with the coaches and it’s tough. They’re playing for blood and country. (Pitchers) have still have to keep in their back of their mind that they have their season and their parent clubs and respect our wishes as well. You just have to coordinate and work with them.”