Pitchers are habit creation. The season of chaos puts them to the test.


Of all the elements that make baseball stand out, nothing beats the pitch. In what other team sport does the most influential player spend most of their work time relaxing? Learning the treacherous work of multiple overhead throws at high speeds requires careful calibration and strict rules.

And then 2020 will come, when quarantined pitchers will shoot baseballs at mattresses in hotel rooms to stay free.

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“I straightened the mattress, I arranged the chairs to act like hitters, and I was throwing about half an hour every day, just trying to mimic something, just trying to make sure I add a little speed to keep my arm in shape,” said the reliever Miami Marlins' Brandon Kinzler, whose teammate Eliezer Hernandez followed the same idea. "Hernandez's room was next to me and I know he did the same because I could hear the ball bouncing all over the place."

Kinzler and his teammates have been trapped in their hotel rooms for a week following an outbreak of positive coronavirus tests. broke through the Marlins lineup after their first streak last month in Philadelphia. The St. Louis Cardinals also squatted at their hotel in Milwaukee for five days. after their own outbreak on July 30, Jack Flaherty threw baseballs into the mattress, Adam Wainwright threw into the pillows.

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In addition to the health risks associated with the virus itself, the pandemic has interfered with the cooking of baseball's most subtle creatures. When Major League Baseball closed in mid-March, the sport had four weeks after six weeks of spring training. This was followed by three and a half months of inactivity, after which the teams held a three-week summer camp for a season of 60 games that began on 23 July.

As expected, the start of the season was marked by a series of hand injuries. No pitcher has spared rookies like A.J. Pook to 40-year-old Rich Hill, middle-sized feeders like Tommy Canley – close players like Ken Giles. High-profile victims included Cy Young Award winners (Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber), World Series Most Valuable Players (Cole Hamels, Stephen Strasbourg) and Shohei Otani, the famous two-way player of the Los Angeles Angels.

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“Pitchers are a unique breed and they rely very heavily on getting into a stream where everything seems to slow down and everything is going perfectly right,” said Dr. Anthony Romeo, former team physician for the Chicago White Sox.

“I think that's what a lot of pitchers are going through this year, that the only normal part of their life is pitching and everything else is completely disrupted – how they interact with their teammates, how they travel, how they interact with their families. … "It's all very distracting, and I think a lot of these pitchers really have a hard time getting into the flow as much as they used to."

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The healthy pitchers were pretty much effective, even with the designated hitter now in use in both leagues. Until Thursday M.L.B. The pitchers had 1,262 WHIPs (walks plus hits per serve), better than end-of-season WHIPs in every season since 1972. The average collective run earned is 4.17 – up from 4.15 in 2018, much lower than last season's 4.51.

However, the accumulation of injured pitchers is worrying. Baseball Prospectus compiled by CallIn the first 10 days of this season, there were 30 pitcher's arm injuries requiring a drop off. The previous high for any season over the past decade was 12.

Pitching injuries are common at the start of each season, but Dr. Chris Ahmad, the Yankee team physician, predicted in a blog post in May that inaction during a pandemic "could greatly exacerbate and exaggerate the risk factors" associated with a common rash. at the beginning of the season Tommy John operations(Canle, a Yankee Peter, went through Tuesday's procedure.)

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For the pitchers, the physical gains achieved during the familiar spring training preparation were all but wiped out by a long layoff.

“That doesn't mean you suddenly put off what you did in Spring Workout 1.0 and pick up where you left off in Spring Workout 2.0,” said Dr. Keith Meister, Texas Rangers Team Physician. “It was a pretty diverse offseason for different people in terms of work or throwing skills. The final stage of preparation for the games was these competitive serves, and we definitely didn't have any ahead of this season, and this was a concern.

“But you have to be very careful when over-analyzing a very small image. When we look at injuries, we look at them for three to five years. ”

To mitigate risk this year, most teams have been extremely conservative about pitcher workloads, continuing a longstanding trend. Throughout Thursday, 23 out of 30 major league teams averaged less than five innings per start, taking advantage of the extra depth this season offered by the expanded 30-man squad to kick off the season.

Since then, the lists of participants have been reduced to 28; Baseball originally planned to shrink the roster size again at the end of this month to 26, but decided last week to refrain from further cuts. The league has taken other measures to reduce the burden on pitchers by playing seven-inning games during doubleheads and putting a runner in second base in extra innings to tackle games faster.

But it was impossible to fully account for the stress of serving in real matches – even without fans in the stands – after just three weeks of training. Dr. Meister said the first month of this season will essentially be a continuation of spring training and the pitchers will continue to gain momentum.

“But sometimes it’s not just a build-up of strength, it’s a surge of effort,” he added. "The guys tell you all the time: as soon as the color of the uniform changes on the other side of the field, and you don't throw a live batting workout and internal commands, suddenly everything jumps up."

Dr. Meister said the Rangers encouraged the pitchers to back down a bit during the layoff, but try to stay active with regular shots. Wes Johnson, the Minnesota Twins' nutrition coach, said he wanted his startup members to stay on standby, playing simulated games with four innings for the entire break, with the feeders throwing two bullpen sessions – one long, one short – a week.

“But the more you gain, the more muscle strength grows, and it's really hard to replicate when you're playing simulations indoors or in an outdoor park,” Johnson said. “So I think this is one of the problems. We had a few guys, but you just can't reproduce the adrenaline and get a real striker in the box. "

As the pitchers spend their time in this weird season, bigger questions may arise next year. If baseball goes back to its usual six-month practice, what happens to potential players who have missed an entire year of play because minor league season was canceled? Can veterans safely return to their normal workloads after a big slump this year? What about young pitchers or injured pitchers hoping to hit a certain pitch this season?

The mystery of the swinging arm – that fickle, fragile, fantastic device that makes baseball so fun – is getting more complex, and even experts are wondering what comes next.

“We're trying to figure out how to deal with it – and to be honest, we don't know yet,” Johnson said. “I don't think anyone knows. There is no manual for that. "

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