The Red Sox are telling their pitchers to get ready.
Sox pitching coach Dave Bush told the Boston Herald by phone on Monday that he’s been discussing plans with his pitchers that would entail individualized build-up programs before a potential three-week spring training begins in June.
“The guys are gearing up right now,” Bush said. “They’re increasing their intensity a little bit. They’re starting to plan for the possibility of playing by then.”
Major League Baseball owners agreed to a proposal for the return to play on Monday and were scheduled to discuss the proposal with the players on Tuesday, according to multiple reports.
There are still hurdles to clear before players feel both fairly compensated and safe enough to return.
“Still waiting to hear more (Tuesday) or the next day,” Bush said. “But from what I understand, we’d have at least three weeks in training camp, or a little bit longer. Three weeks is the shortest program I put together. As long as we have at least that period of time, I feel decently comfortable that everyone can get ready, especially with an increase in workload the next three or four weeks.
“I think they can prepare themselves for what should be a pretty short camp. We’ve talked about that possibility in our group chats. And they understand that whenever we do get together, they need to show up ready to face hitters immediately. Because we won’t have the two weeks or so of regular spring training where they build up slowly with regular days off. We may have to get to game shape a lot faster.”
The plan is complicated.
Because not every pitcher on the Red Sox roster has the same access to a throwing partner, catcher or pitcher’s mound, some guys are further along in the build-up process than others.
The pitchers who haven’t been able to get on a mound regularly could be delayed when spring training restarts.
That means some pitchers might not be ready for games as soon as the regular season begins, which could happen as soon as July 1.
“If they’re not quite ready, we’ll have to be more careful with some guys,” Bush said. “They may not be able to get into games as quickly. Or they may not be quite as ready when the season starts. We’ll just adjust accordingly.”
Injuries are undoubtedly a concern for the coaching and training staff. Bush has been speaking with team trainers and sports scientists to make sure the Red Sox aren’t pushing their players too fast, or too slow, before a potential return.
All agree on one thing: This isn’t ideal.
The biggest concern among injury experts is that players will push themselves too hard when spring training resumes and their bodies won’t be prepared after the long layoff.
“If they do it too fast or wait too long to do it too fast, they put themselves at risk,” Bush said. “I try to express that as best I can. It’s hard to monitor because it’s all done over Zoom chat or text or phone. But we’re doing our best to communicate openly to know where guys are.”
“It’s hard to replicate the game-like intensity when you’re at home. That’s my biggest concern for guys. No matter how much they throw and try to replicate it, it’s different when there’s guys in the box, opponents in the box.”
The Red Sox are in the same boat as every other team, of course, but their pitching staff is already a bit thin, with Chris Sale out for the year recovering from Tommy John surgery and David Price having been traded to the Dodgers along with Mookie Betts earlier this year.
Bush is expecting length to be an issue for pitchers out of the gate.
“When we have discussions about roster makeup and roles, that’ll factor into it,” he said. “How ready is a certain guy, how is he built up, where does he fit in with the rest of the staff? I wish I had more answers.”
Some in the general public might look at MLB players as being relatively low-risk for coronavirus complications. But many of the game’s trainers, coaches and other ancillary employees are of various ages and backgrounds. Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke is 63 years old, for example.
“You’re not the only job where you’re going to be in close quarters with people,” said the 40-year-old Bush. “I think everyone starting to work again is at moderate risk. I’m a little bit concerned because everyone is facing the same thing. But I also know baseball is not going to start up again until they have protocols and safety precautions in place as best they can.
“They’ll do their best to keep everybody healthy because if they can’t, they won’t be ready to play. If there are big outbreaks and trouble keeping the virus out, and a bunch of guys getting sick, we’re not going to be able to play anymore. Everyone has the best interest to do the best we can to make sure when we do start again, we’ll do our best to get through the season.”