The Yankees knew they were living on borrowed time, even as Florida’s governor insisted on playing chicken with COVID-19. It’s now official – camp is closed.
The Yankees hung in there as long as they could to keep DJ LeMahieu’s sanity intact.
Finally, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis recovered his sanity when he issued a long-delayed Stay At Home order that effectively shut down the team’s Spring Training facility.
In recent weeks, LeMahieu was joined briefly by Mike Ford and Miguel Andujar in mid-March and for a more extended period by Tyler Wade, who, like LeMahieu tied his to daily workouts and a need to maintain a routine.
Those days are gone.
Rehabbing Players Exempt
The silver lining for the Yankees is that rehabbing players will be allowed to use the facilities. It’s not clear, though, if trainers and rehab specialists are exempt from the order.
Yankees Main Concern Is Their Pitchers
DJ LeMahieu is a pro’s pro, and he’ll have no trouble figuring something out. Besides, position players generally need only 30-40 at-bats against live pitching to be game ready.
Pitchers, however, are a different breed, creatures of habit and routine. Their ramp-up during Spring Training is strictly guarded and watched. Some need more time than others. Enter Matt Blake, the Yankees new pitching coach.
Once the all-clear sign is given, everyone will be anxious to get the season underway, with revenue flowing in and not out as it is now.
Seemingly, the players have lost the battle to have a three-week pre-season, which usually would be enough time for starting pitchers to throw 65-70 pitches in a single outing.
Yankees Plan Only As Good As The Next Plan
MLB is sensitive to the problem, though, and active rosters are likely to be expanded to 28 or 29 players. Blake figures this will allow the Yankees to carry fifteen instead of thirteen pitchers.
Anticipated are no days off and double-headers to get in as many regular-season games as possible once play resumes.
For Matt Blake, who has never coached a game from a major league dugout, this was all new territory, even before the COVID-19 crisis hit.
The first-year pitching coach is in the Cleveland area keeping in touch with coaches and pitchers.
With a sense of levity in these tumultuous times, Blake is walking a tightrope along with the Yankees. He explains:
Still, the Yankee’s greatest fear is there will be new injuries as pitchers – athletes and competitors by nature – go too far too fast.
Matt Blake’s job is to measure the temperature of his staff before that happens. Fortunately, not everyone will require his full attention. Gerritt Cole can be trusted to forge his own path.
Masahiro Tanaka, too, except Tanaka, typically needs more time to ramp-up and the Yankees will need to be sensitive to that trait.
Yankees: Keeping The Communication Lines Open
With players scattered across America, modern technology avails Blake the opportunity to keep in touch with his staff. Who’s doing what, when, and how often is what he asks each pitcher to record in a diary of sorts.
Just the same, Matt Blake is sensitive to the uniqueness of these times. When does “communication” overstep its bounds to become burdensome and counterproductive?
After all, his players have families, immediate and extended, and that has to be the player’s first charge. So far, so good, but no one in the Yankees organization wants to field a call from a player with bad news on the other end.
2020 – The Great American Experiment
As Matt Blake and others in the Yankees organization have pointed out, this “thing” is far more significant than baseball. A disrupted season is but a ripple in a pond compared to the upheaval and loss of life we are experiencing.
But the American way is to adjust and cope, regardless of the challenge. On a small scale, the Yankees are engaged in a battle to do just that.
The heroes and soldiers are on the front lines in our hospitals and nursing homes.
But that shouldn’t mean the Yankees or any professional team needs to fold the tent without seeking solutions to an ever-changing environment and culture in their own realm.
Matt Blake, Aaron Boone, and the rest of the Yankees coaching staff are only doing what they can within the restrictions imposed by the virus. From home, where they and everyone in the Yankees organization belong.
Me too. Stay Home. It’s the only way.