Angel Pitching coach Mickey Callaway spent nearly a month during the closing of the Major League Baseball working on 120 acres of land in the Florida Panhandle, soaking in quality time with his wife and two children – and conveying, from afar, to the players under his supervision about the importance of looking after their arms are throwing.
On one hand, this pause makes Callaway’s work easier. He has more time to devote to small things than he did in spring training a month ago. When he had finished his morning assignment on the piece of land he had bought during the offseason, he chatted with pitchers and Angel coaches and filtered through the video. He has been able to guide players through the changes they have tried to implement in their mechanics. He has found other things for them to do.
But uncertainty surrounding the return of baseball schedules has forced Angels throwers, and those in other organizations, to take a potentially dangerous step back in their preparations.
Callaway said in a conference call Tuesday that he had encouraged pitchers to act as if they were one more week from starting spring training. That strategy must help pitchers minimize the risk of injury.
“We can stay in an area that depends as far as the strength of our shoulders and elbows and the throwing conditions,” he said. “Then, every time they give us more information, we can catch up and leave safely and healthily.”
But doing more may be a better plan. Ron Wolforth, a long throwing trainer who has operated Texas Baseball Ranch for almost 30 years, warned against reducing workload.
“The danger is the way back is too steep,” he said.
Wolforth, who has a kinesiology degree from Sam Houston State, began researching baseball injuries in the early 1990s. He found six reasons the health of the pitcher arm could suffer – structural limitations, movement patterns, training regimens, workload, function and internal body preparation.
Ideally, pitchers will follow routines as closely as possible – one or two days of intense tosses, two days of light and three days of moderate intensity – they usually maintain during the season so they can avoid health problems later.
“It’s important to carry out the cycle so that the arms and soft tissues remain strong,” said Wolforth, who has consulted for the MLB team and calculated Justin Verlander and Trevor Bauer among his famous clients. “Either extreme – doing nothing or being too hard – can really be a problem. So you have to insert the needle very carefully here.
“It’s a very good idea to act like you are in season and you have one bullpen [session] every five days to try to stay in the cycle. That’s very important. “
Placing such plans into practice is indeed difficult. Equipment may be limited. In some cases, finding a catch is difficult.
Callaway believes angel pitchers are on the right track. Most beginners throw up and down sessions – where the pitcher fires a predetermined number of throws, sits to rest and rises to throw again, simulates the game situation – and all pitchers throw mounds two to three times per week when they can.
“One sad thing is that some of our rookies throw very well,” Callaway said. “[Dylan] Bundy maybe better than him for a long time, according to himself, so it smells like that. But I think if they keep dumping the mound and keep it ready, then we can take it back. “
The exception is the bidirectional player Shohei Ohtani and Griffin Canning left-handed. Ohtani, who is scheduled to return to pitching after spending last season recovering from Tommy John’s operation, took a long throw up to around 180 feet and “really let it go” from 60 feet, Callaway said. Canning, slowing down in spring training due to elbow discomfort, is making about 50 throws a day up to 75 feet. An amended season should allow both to be a factor in major league rotation from the start.
Angels also provide virtual practice. Strength and conditioning trainers have conducted video conferences for pitchers running through arm maintenance routines. When they regroup, the strength of their shoulders and elbows will be checked again before they are allowed to continue work at the previous level of exertion.
“When we start this, we have to make sure that our people are in a good place to stay healthy to ride and then whatever season we play,” Callaway said. “So we really try to stay on top of that.”
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