Baseball’s spring training can be a slog. It’s normally five weeks between when the full squad shows up until the first game, and six weeks from the time pitchers and catchers report.
Position players don’t need such a long lead-in. Pitchers do, especially starters asked to regularly go deep into games. It takes some time, and a lot of rest between outings, to build up that stamina.
That’s something July’s three-week training camp won’t afford. That’s all the time available to get a shortened 60-game season in before the fall gets too close to winter, so starters won’t be ready to go deep early in a campaign impeded by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We have a six-to-seven-week spring training so we can get our pitchers stretched out,” A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane said on The TK Show with Tim Kawakami. “With the three-week period, you’re just not going to have starters going seven or eight innings. You’re going to have to break games up in terms of three or four innings at a time. It’s going to take a while for these guys to get stretched out. That will be an interesting dynamic that we haven’t had to deal with in a while.”
The A’s are well equipped to handle a less than ideal scenario. They have an excellent five-man rotation with Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk. They also have Chris Bassitt as a more-than-capable starting option or long man out of the bullpen who can pair with a starter only able to go four-ish innings.
Bassitt can be a bridge to the better parts of the A’s bullpen, especially with a lead, once or maybe twice in a rotation cycle depending upon his workload if he stretches out like a starter during this camp.
The A’s also have a former starter and long man Yusmeiro Petit available, someone asked to go two-plus innings eight times in 2019. He went that distance 18 times in 2018, so he’s capable of extending into a third-inning if needed. Lou Trivino went three innings once last year and two-plus four times.
The A’s could also use an extra roster spot -- they have 30 in the early going -- on someone to help that effort.
How long will the starters be hindered? We can look at the 1995 season as an example. Beane brought that year up in his conversation with Kawakami as another unique case with little lead time for starters to stretch out. That season was odd, with replacement players set to start a season with the players union on strike. A deal was struck later in the spring, so teams went back to spring training for a three-week lead-in to the regular season.
The A’s were pretty bad in 1995 and didn’t always have cause for pitchers to go deep in games early on, but they didn’t push a starter into the seventh inning until Todd Stottlemyre did it in the 13th game. The A’s had pitchers go into the sixth inning three times before that, with Dave Stewart doing so twice on solid outings.
"This will be very similar," Beane said. "We’re going to have starters who throw a max of maybe 4 or 5 innings the first couple of weeks."
We could see that early output from the 2020 starters, maybe in shorter blocker for Puk and Luzardo, young pitchers with relatively recent surgeries. The A’s pitching depth should help them get through a few rotations, until the starters are properly stretched out.