There are a few things emerging after watching two days’ worth of Zoom video interviews from Orioles camp at Oriole Park. The players certainly put their time to good use after spring training shut down in mid-March. And fthey seem determined to abide by the extensive health protocols in place to give this season every chance to both get going and to be played to completion.
It was March 12 when spring training was halted by COVID-19 concerns and the second version of training began Friday in Baltimore for 45 players.
O’s players seemed to take to heart trying to stay active and ready while the game was shut down. Their individual workouts and whatever they did in conjunction with other players on their own have them on a strong path to be ready for opening day on July 24. They won’t have anywhere near the normal amount of time we see during a full spring training.
“I think a lot of us, within a week or two, are going to be ready to go,” third baseman Rio Ruiz said Saturday. “We’ve done our job in the sense of staying ready. We’ve jumped into live BPs already. Guys look good on the mound. Guys look good in the box. I think we’re ready to get some (intrasquad) games going here in the next couple of days.”
And O’s skipper Brandon Hyde said the intrasquads will start in just three or four days and this summer camp will likely conclude with the club playing other teams in a few exhibition games. Teams are allowed to play three such games.
Meanwhile, players have over 100 pages of protocols to follow. It will be strict. There will be physical distancing in and beyond the dugout and clubhouse. Players are asked not to spit. No high-fives. Pitchers are not allowed to lick their fingers to get a better grip on the ball, but are allowed to take a wet rag with them to the pitcher’s mound.
This is just scratching the surface. On the road, players won’t have some of the usual freedom of movement around a city or even their hotel. It will not be time to socialize. It will be a time to try and stay healthy and keep your team healthy as well.
Hyde said yesterday the Orioles’ policy now is to not reveal if any players have tested positive for the virus. On Saturday, the Braves revealed that Freddie Freeman, Pete Kozma, Touki Toussaint and Will Smith have tested positive. So have two Red Sox players, Darwinzon Hernández and Josh Taylor, and two Yankees, DJ LeMahieu and Luis Cessa, along with Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
On Friday, the Orioles’ Chris Davis said, “but if you’re doing things you shouldn’t be doing and get sick, you’re going to have to answer to a clubhouse full of guys.”
“We’re going to police each other,” O’s lefty Paul Fry said yesterday of the extensive health protocols. “We’re going to hold each other accountable. We’re not going to have guys going out to bars and on the road, going to clubs and stuff like that. We’re going to be a tight-knit group I think. The only challenges I think we’ll face is stuff we can’t really control. And that’s for anybody really during this time. I’m just excited to get back out there and get this 60-game sprint in.”
Fry said he was not concerned about resuming the season.
“I wasn’t apprehensive at all. Honestly, I was hoping there would be a season, so this is awesome. There are times when I didn’t think we’d have a season. But I’m glad we are and I’m excited to be here,” he said.
The left-hander, who went 1-9 with a 5.34 ERA last year after a strong 2018, said he worked hard to stay ready and sharp during baseball’s down time.
“I tried to do it how I would getting ready (in normal circumstances). I started ramping up with live BPs and stuff like that,” Fry said. “Throwing two-inning sim games. Throwing was normal for where we would be in July here for me. I threw live (BP on Friday) and I felt like I could pitch in a major league game. I feel completely ready. I was ready the week and a half we had left in spring training. I stayed right there and honestly progressed a lot more from there.”
Ruiz, who hit .440 (11-for-25) during the earlier spring training games, did his part to stay ready as well and said he felt good when he stepped into the batter’s box for the first time in live BP on Friday.
“You know, getting in the box for the first time and digging in, the first thought I had was my walk-off last year,” said Ruiz. “You know, getting in the box was a good feeling, man. I was amped, I was ready to go. I was probably swinging out of my shoes too early. But the last couple of at-bats I had, I kind of settled in and settled down and felt ready good at the end of the live BPs.”
During his Zoom call Saturday, Hyde spent some time talking about his pitching staff. You would expect to see at least 15 pitchers on an opening day roster of 30 players. Hyde said it would be reasonable to expect his starters to be able to pitch six innings and throw about 85 pitches when the season starts. He said some of his pitchers may even be ready to exceed that.