PEORIA, Ariz. – As the Mariners’ spring-training complex underwent a cleaning that was deep enough to please even the most germophobic person Saturday, the uncertainty of baseball, sports and daily life amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus lingers, bringing fear and apprehension.
Instead of the bustle of morning preparation for an afternoon game against the Oakland A’s in Mesa, the complex was empty except for cleaning crews that wanted to make sure every inch of the massive facility was sanitized.
The 43 Mariners players who remain in the Phoenix area during the spring-training shutdown were ordered to stay home, but they will be allowed to return Sunday to resume working out and staying in shape for a season with a starting date that is yet to be determined.
The prevailing thought around baseball is that the goal of starting the season April 9 is a pipe dream. Multiple MLB sources believe that it will be closer to May 1 or even mid-May before the season starts, and that spring training might officially resume near the end of April at the earliest.
Of course, this could all change in a few days. There’s nothing predictable about the situation.
So what do the Mariners do now?
Well, as general manager Jerry Dipoto discussed on a conference call Saturday, they will treat the days at the complex like offseason days in January. It will be open, and players can come in and lift weights and condition with the performance coaches still onsite. They will be able receive treatment from trainers for any injuries. And they will be able to get on the field and play catch, hit in the cages, take some ground balls or throw a bullpen. But there likely won’t be an organized group activity such as batting practice or an infield session.
“We are not planning to do anything on the field for the foreseeable future, but eventually that will change too as we get more comfortable with the group and how to manage it,” Dipoto said. “Because we do have a large group of players staying, we do feel strongly that the wise thing from a health-and-wellness perspective is keep it to smaller groups. If more than 40, we’ll break it in two and perhaps into three different subsets of players and schedule workouts that don’t cross over. We think that might be wiser with all that we know about this virus.”
From a baseball standpoint, the biggest issue with the break is how it affects pitchers. The length of modern spring training is basically due to the need to get pitchers stretched out and ready for the season. Position players can get ready much quicker. As creatures of habit in their preparation, they will adjust those routines to the new set-up.
“We are preparing like we are in the early days of spring, and we are going to continue to maintain the levels we’ve built with our players to this point,” Dipoto said. “We aren’t going to build on to anything. We aren’t going to increase workload. We are just going to try and keep players where they are, so they don’t lose the foundation that they’ve built to this point.”
For Justin Dunn, he’s viewing this as an opportunity to go back to the basics of his throwing progressions.
“I can kind of go back to rebuild phase, re-strengthen the arm again and give it a little boost,” he said. “You can kind of step off the gas a little and go back to stretch-out phase throwing-wise and rebuild the strength and get even more volume in throwing-wise without putting a crazy high intensity on the arm. I’m excited to see how it plays out.”
Most of the Mariners’ starting pitchers had made two or three appearances and built up to around 55 pitches. Relievers had made three and four appearances. They were logically 10 days away from being regular-season ready.
“Our guys are all in good spots as far as where they are at right now,” manager Scott Servais said. “You don’t want to lose a whole lot of momentum. We also don’t want to build them too quickly. If April 9 does become a hard, real date, once we get to Monday and we have a clear idea of where we’re at, if it looks like everybody is going to stay and we’re going to continue to work out, we will keep them at the same levels they’re at.
“And then we’ll ramp them up once we get closer to knowing what the for-certain opening day would be. But, until we get to Monday and have a little bit clearer picture, we just want guys to stay active, just play some catch. You won’t see anybody throwing sides or catchers with gear on, we’re just going to try to slow it down here for the next two or three days.”
From a transaction standpoint, the Mariners can still cut players from camp and reassign them, make trades or even release players. Though it seems like that would be a useless thing to do with baseball in hiatus.