It took longer than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the sights and sounds of baseball have finally returned.
Spring Training 2.0 is underway around Major League Baseball, affectionately known as Summer Camp now that it’s not spring anymore. Teams have less than three weeks to prepare for the 2020 season, which is expected to begin around July 23 or 24.
With traditional spring facilities in Arizona and Florida shut down due to rising virus cases in those states, clubs are using their home ballparks to train, meaning the Oakland A’s are warming up at the Coliseum. The A’s have 42 players on hand, with 18 more prospects and minor leaguers waiting to report to an alternate site whose location has not yet been determined. See the bottom of this post for the full 60-man pool.
Oakland’s first workout took place on Saturday, followed by more on Sunday. Here’s a roundup of the news and updates from the first couple days.
“Because the A’s do not yet have all their intake testing results (holiday delay) they are postponing their workout today. If they are able to schedule something for this evening, they shall. A’s pitchers and catchers will still work out today, just no position players. Time is being discussed.”
Furthermore, two pitchers have not yet been cleared to participate. Results for Mike Fiers and Jesus Luzardo, who trained together in Florida during the shutdown, are still “pending,” though Slusser points out that could simply mean the tests haven’t come back yet. Check out Slusser’s full writeup on the topic for more details and quotes.
Health and safety
While the return of baseball is exciting, the emphasis will be on doing it safely. There are lots of new rules and protocols for everyone to follow, from masks and social distancing, to frequent testing, to refraining from spitting or from pitchers licking their fingers on the mound, to rotating the balls more quickly as well as thoroughly disinfecting the equipment. Slusser has all the details.
All-Star closer Liam Hendriks has particularly been working on the part about not licking his fingers, which is a common practice among pitchers during games. Via John Hickey of Sports Illustrated:
[Hendriks] says every time he picks up a ball, his first inclination is to go to his mouth. Now he’s trying to redirect and go to his neck.
“I’m training myself, kind of like you’d train a dog,” he said. “I pick a ball up, I refrain from going to my mouth. And then I usually get a treat after that.”
Overall, manager Bob Melvin stressed the seriousness of the situation, both from the standpoint of the group health implications but also in terms of practical baseball strategy, via Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle:
“You’re staying healthy for not only yourself and your family but your teammates and their families. ... It’s only for a few months, and we have to do the best we can to minimize the virus in our clubhouse. And I think teams that are able to do that and stay healthy will have a leg up on other teams.”
One person who appreciates Melvin’s commitment to safety is Amanda Diekman, whose husband, reliever Jake, is a high-risk individual due to ulcerative colitis. “Really can’t say enough about how thorough and thoughtful Bo Mel has been with Jake through all of this. We appreciate it so much and feel genuinely cared for by him,” she said on Twitter.
Pitchers only have a few weeks to warm up and stretch out for the season, but at least a couple seem to be making good progress. Frankie Montas posted a video back in May of him hitting 100 mph on the radar gun, and on Saturday catcher Sean Murphy said his hand was “pretty sore” after catching for Montas during the workout, reports Hickey.
Meanwhile, Hendriks sounds ready to go anytime, reports insider Martin Gallegos:
“If you gave me a game tomorrow, I would be ready,” Hendriks said Saturday after the A’s first workout of Summer Camp. “I’ve been throwing to hitters already and throwing bullpens. It doesn’t take me long to get game-ready.”
Gallegos goes on to mention that Hendriks dealt with an injury after the original spring training was shut down by the pandemic. He strained an oblique at that time, but is now healed and healthy.
In terms of the rotation as a whole, Slusser reports that the A’s are still considering using six starters, perhaps in the form of having two pitchers work in a tandem in one game.
One more important pitching development: rookie A.J. Puk cut his hair! After sporting shoulder-length locks throughout his minor league career, Puk showed up with a new look this weekend.
Here’s the new streamlined Puk in action.
A.J. Puk cut off all his hair.— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) July 5, 2020
Sean Manaea: “I guess quarantine does that to people” pic.twitter.com/efqeDvc0HS
“I was not expecting that at all. I thought that was his baby and he was going to keep that forever. I guess quarantine does that to people,” said fellow pitcher Sean Manaea of Puk’s mane, via Gallegos.
Don’t worry, Randy Johnson cut his long hair eventually too, so we can still dream on that comp.
Finally, as promised, the sights and sounds of baseball on Rickey Henderson Field.
First up is some batting practice, featuring catchers Austin Allen, Sean Murphy, Carlos Perez, and Jonah Heim. (Allen hit “several bombs,” reports Slusser.)
Round 2, with the same four hitters (they’re the only ones cleared to practice so far)
View of the bullpen
Sean Manaea is throwing a bullpen session: pic.twitter.com/8Xm2QvS7Id— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) July 4, 2020
It’s Bassitt and Montas slinging in the A’s bullpen: pic.twitter.com/eW4ThCQgHL— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) July 4, 2020
Getting that work in
A’s pitchers running stadium stairs today. That’s Chris Bassitt in the back ... and I’m not sure who with the hood. pic.twitter.com/zWXcyKzSYC— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) July 5, 2020
Baseball players are back on the field! That’s the next step toward the return of real MLB games, if the pandemic doesn’t get further in the way and shut it all down again.
Here’s the A’s 60-man pool. Players in italics with asterisks** are not on the 40-man roster. Players indented with —hyphens are reporting to off-site alternate training camp rather than MLB camp at the Coliseum.
Frankie Montas (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Mike Fiers (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Jesus Luzardo (L)
A.J. Puk (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
Daniel Mengden (R)**
—Grant Holmes (R)
—Daulton Jefferies (R)
—James Kaprielian (R)
—Tyler Baum (R)**
—Parker Dunshee (R)**
—Brian Howard (R)**
Liam Hendriks (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
T.J. McFarland (L)
Burch Smith (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Lucas Luetge (L)**
Jaime Schultz (R)**
Jordan Weems (R)**
—Wandisson Charles (R)**
—Miguel Romero (R)**
Sean Murphy (R)
Austin Allen (L)
Jonah Heim (S)
Carlos Perez (R)**
—Kyle McCann (L)**
—Tyler Soderstrom (L)**
Matt Olson (L)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Tony Kemp (L)
Franklin Barreto (R)
Vimael Machin (L)
Sheldon Neuse (R)
Eric Campbell (R)**
Ryan Goins (L)**
Nate Orf (R)**
—Nick Allen (R)**
—Logan Davidson (S)**
—Robert Puason (S)**
Khris Davis (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)
Chad Pinder (R)
Seth Brown (L)
Skye Bolt (S)
—Luis Barrera (L)
—Dustin Fowler (L)
—Brayan Buelvas (R)**
—Greg Deichmann (L)**
—Buddy Reed (S)**