After shortened spring training, MLB players rush to get ready for regular season


In each of his four full spring workouts as a major leaguer, Trea Turner received at least 50 plate appearances and played at least 90 innings in the field. That full quota of spring training reps often had him ready to go immediately once opening day rolled around. The Dodgers shortstop is a career .301/.365/.498 hitter in March and April, still his best months until after the All-Star break.

This spring, with one exhibition game remaining, Turner has had just 33 plate appearances and gone 58 innings in the field. With spring training halved to just three weeks this year, he’s among hundreds of major leaguers trying to get ready for Opening Day on an accelerated schedule.

Whether or not Turner really is, even he can’t say for sure.

“We all think spring training might be a little long, so I think we’re all in the mindset that we can go with less bats or games than we’ve had in the past. past, but also at the same time. times this one felt pretty quick,” Turner said ahead of the Dodgers’ exhibition against the Angels on Sunday. “I think a lot of guys felt like it was over almost too quickly.”

The 99-day lockout delayed the reporting date for spring training by nearly a month this year and resulted in the cancellation of 10 to 12 games from each team’s spring training schedule. Even though Major League Baseball delayed opening day from March 31 to April 7 to give players more time to prepare, players will still open the regular season at what would normally be half to two-thirds of their usual ramp-up process. .

In 2021, utility D-backs Josh Rojas led all hitters with 72 spring practice batters. This year, with one day remaining, Angels outfielder Brandon Marsh has the most spring practice batting with 40.

The difference is even more marked for pitchers. Mariners left-hander Marco Gonzales leads all pitchers with 17.2 innings this spring. In 2021, 34 pitchers pitched that many innings or more.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior said. “I think guys, for the most part, 95% of our guys came in pretty good shape and took on the challenge of really coming in and attacking their throws and their deliveries, where I generally think it’s more of a relaxation to make sure they are in good shape. We basically had to know where everyone was and see what state they were in and figure out if we were doing something, if we were making adjustments. Because the last thing we want to do is start tinkering with things and the guy is out of shape and the arm strength isn’t there or the delivery isn’t there and all of a sudden it’s c It’s there and then you try to unroll things that you were maybe band-aiding, so to speak.

To counter the effects of shortened spring training, some teams have changed their entire spring schedules. The Red Sox, for example, have changed when and how they go through team fundamentals. The effect was positive enough that they plan to make the change permanent.

“I think we’re in a good position,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Actually, we changed a few elements and we will continue to do so as we have done this year. We avoided the fundamentals of the team very early on. Everything was building the players and then towards the end we hit the fundamentals with a smaller group. It worked wonderfully in terms of timing.

“But I think the players – not just our players but across the league – you talk to the managers and the way they’ve arrived physically is a testament to who they are and what they want to do. The game is in a great place because of who’s playing the game. They’ve been amazing.

Recent history provides some clues as to the effects of a limited ramp-up period.

Players only had three weeks of summer camp to prepare for the shortened 2020 season. While the circumstances were markedly different with teams limited to intra-squad scrums in their home stadiums by the coronavirus pandemic, the preparation process and timelines were similar. Players spent the months leading up to the resumption of on-field activities training at local pitches or training facilities. Once they returned to official practices with their organizations, they only had about half their usual time before the start of the regular season.

The negative effects of the shortened build-up were mostly seen on defense, where players were visibly not up to speed of play once Opening Day rolled around. The league’s overall roster percentage of .983 in the shortened 2020 season was the lowest in eight years. In total, 8.3% of all runs scored were unearned, the highest in nine years.

Turner, for his part, acknowledged that players weren’t always getting enough defensive reps in shortened preseason scenarios. In this regard, he directly compared this spring to 2020.

“I don’t think I necessarily got what I needed in the game,” he said. “You still have enough work in the backyards and at BP and everything. But especially in the game, you can’t control how many ground balls you get. You may have one a day. Some days you get zero. I felt like maybe I only got six balls on the ground, but I feel like I’m getting the job done, so you just gotta trust yourself, trust the coaching staff you’re gonna be in a good position and keep working So when the first month rolls around, you don’t make those mistakes.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a similar situation (until 2020).”

The other area where the shortened build-up period in 2020 had a particularly noticeable effect was in relief pitchers. With relievers only getting one or two innings of work before the start of the season, many struggled to refine their deliveries and struggled with control throughout the abbreviated regular season. Relievers averaged 4.01 walks per nine innings in 2020, the highest rate in 20 years.

It could be a similar story this year. No reliever has made more than seven appearances this spring. In 2021, 142 relievers have made more than seven spring training appearances.

“We told everyone, especially relievers like, be ready to go anytime because we’re going to do what we do with the matched guys, go back to back, top to bottom, left to left, des stuff like that,” Prior said. “They were open-minded. They were open to everything and understood the situation everyone was in.

Cora added: “The relievers are the ones who suffered in quotes with this because you don’t have time to go back to back, give them dirty innings. You see it in terms of timing. Guys go six right away, they go 3-4-5-6. Usually you don’t see this. Usually you have 1-2-3, and you have time for the relievers to come in and make their progress. But we expect them to be ready. I think everyone is in the same boat.

The effects of fewer at-bats, fewer innings and fewer defensive reps could very well lead to sloppy baseball the first few weeks of the regular season. A team simply playing sharper baseball than a more skilled opponent could very well steal a few wins early in the season. A player who has put in extra time on the backcourts to make up for lost reps could very well be off to a strong start that fuels a career-best season.

Everything remains to be seen at this stage. With the regular season opener on Thursday, the effects of shortened spring training will show up soon enough.

BA correspondents Bill Plunkett and Alex Speier contributed to this story.

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