Pete Woodworth wasn’t expecting to have two offseasons before his first season as Mariners pitching coach. But with Major League Baseball, and sports in general, shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, his rookie season in the role has been unique.
Sitting at his home in Florida, he can only wait, like everyone else, for a return to normalcy while monitoring pitchers that are spread out across the country.
“It feels sort of like the offseason all over again,” he said. “You know we’re all in our separate homes, and we’re working toward the goal and we’re all doing our part and we’re connecting and trying to connect in any way we can possible, and staying in contact in keeping guys up to date with what we’re doing and what they’re doing and just taking it day by day.”
So what are his pitchers doing during their second offseason?
“They’re actually doing a lot more than I think a lot of people gave them credit for,” Woodworth said. “When this all happened it was obviously a shock for a lot of guys, but most of our guys have a safe place to go. They have equipment or a facility or an environment that they can continue to keep working out to throw. A handful of our guys have home bullpens, have a place to get off the mound, they have someone to catch for them. They have throwing partners.
“Really, all of our guys have plenty of resources to kind of maintain with what they had built up over the offseason and into spring training.”
There was little doubt that lefty Yusei Kikuchi would be active in this second offseason. He probably throws more than any other pitcher year-round.
“One of the main questions was how are we going to keep these guys throwing, working out, moving, staying flexible and mobile and continuing their routine,” Woodworth said. “I had no doubt that Kikuchi was going to continue throwing. He is still in Scottsdale, with his wife and baby, and they have a facility to work out, to throw. They have a mound. His translator, Kevin, is there with him, who throws with and catches him as well. (Kikuchi) hasn’t skipped a beat.”
Woodworth is monitoring the throwing output for all of his pitchers. They have a digital platform where they log their daily activity to be monitored.
But the platform doesn’t reflect the intensity of those sessions.
“Regardless, their intensity and their volume is nothing compared to what it was like in spring training, and what it would be like if we were in the season already,” Woodworth said. “You can throw a max-effort bullpen (session) in your backyard to a catch net, but that intensity is not going to be anything close to even throwing a bullpen in spring training. It’s very tough to match what they would have been doing in season, in spring training, while they’re at home.”
But the larger problem is not having a start date for the season or even a return to the facility in Arizona. So much of the “ramp up” is predicated on having dates to build toward. Right now, there are only proposals and rumors about a return to baseball that include plans to play entirely in Arizona, playing the season in Arizona and Florida separately and other to-be-released scenarios.
Until something is concrete, pitchers can only keep their arms active and condition for an offseason that seems to have no end.
“That’s the number one question from a lot of guys,” Woodworth said. “It is different for every individual. They’re all built a different way — Marco Gonzales is going to train a little different than Kikuchi. How starters are going about their businesses is a little different than relievers. Without a date it’s definitely tough.”
And when there is a date?
“It will be different,” Woodworth said. “It’ll be a different time frame. But in reality, it’s kind of very similar. They’ll have the day that they report, and we’ll have an opening-day date set, and everyone will have their individual plan of how they’re ramping and building up and preparing for that date whether they get to three innings, whether they get to five innings; it all depends on the individual guy.”
The Mariners have discussed in-season pitching plans, including a six-man rotation and piggybacking starts with two starters working three innings each.
“We’ve ran through a handful of different scenarios with different start dates and how we’re going to work a rotation and a staff,” he said. “It all depends on how much time they have to ramp back up. It depends on what they’ve been doing, how they come into this second spring training. There’s a lot of variables involved. We are open to trying some new things, but the main thing is them coming in and ramping up, getting ready for the season in a healthy spot.”