Gio Gonzalez turns into a kid during batting practice.
He sprints around in the outfield, aggressively shagging fly balls and jumping in front of other pitchers to make acrobatic grabs. The normally reserved Stephen Strasburg even gets in on the act, as he tries to outposition Gonzalez for balls hit in his area.
But Gonzalez and Strasburg - or any of the other Nats pitchers, for that matter - won’t be “power shagging” anymore.
After hearing that Yankees closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL while aggressively chasing fly balls during batting practice yesterday, Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty has told his hurlers to cut down on the power shagging and err on the side of caution.
“That put up a red flag, especially for our pitching coach,” Gonzalez said. “After what happened to Mo, it’s heartbreaking. That guy is a legend, a Hall of Famer, and the way he went down, it just hurts to see that happen to a guy like that. But (McCatty) kind of set it out for all of us - no more power shagging. Just take it normal.
“Don’t try to rob a home run, don’t try to do any of those crazy stunts. Just be normal, let the ball drop if you have to and go walk after it.”
Like Rivera, Gonzalez used power shagging as a way of supplementing his conditioning. He got genuine enjoyment out of running around in the outfield, but it also helped him get a lower-body workout during his non-pitching days.
“That’s how I was doing it,” Gonzalez said. “The power shagging was definitely one of those quick sprints. Make the heart rate go, the blood flow a little bit. But stuff like that, you can’t do anything about it. Cat already set out the word, and that was it. Once he said, ‘No more power shag,’ that’s it. It sucks.”
Of course, as was the case with walk-off celebrations, no one considered power shagging a real risk until someone got injured. Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales suffered a season-ending broken leg when he joyously leapt onto home plate after hitting a walk-off homer in 2010, which led the Angels to institute rules which cut down on on-field celebrations.
Now Rivera’s injury is having the same impact on the Nationals, even if the chances of a player getting injured while chasing a fly ball are slim.
“How many walk-off home runs have been hit in the last 50 years? And how many people have gotten hurt? One or two,” said reliever Craig Stammen, who isn’t a part of the Nats’ power shagging group. “How many pitchers have shagged fly balls in the last 50 years? How many people have gotten hurt? Four or five. It’s just what it is. You can run after a ball halfway and pull a hamstring. It can happen at any moment, you just never know.
“It’s just unfortunate that it happened to Mariano, and hopefully that’s not the end of his career.”