Adapt and move forward: Tigers players try to make best of a bad situation

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Most of the Tigers’ training camp roster showed up for informal workouts Monday at TigerTown. Small groups worked in shifts in the weight room. Pitchers threw on flat ground out on the back fields.

Hitters, again rotating in small groups, took batting practice on another field.

Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson, right, talks with Matthew Boyd at the first day of pitchers and catchers worked out in Lakeland, Florida.

There won’t be that many players on the field again for a while.

“There’s a level of uncertainty just because nobody knows what’s going to happen,” Matthew Boyd, the Tigers player representative, said in a teleconference Monday morning. “We’re in the same boat as the rest of the country. We had another team meeting today and a lot of guys are leaving.”

As Major League Baseball continues to modify guidelines in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, all non-roster players were mandated to leave Monday, which will clear out a large segment of the TigerTown population. Some will go home, others will go to Detroit and work out at Comerica Park.

Also on Monday, MLB pushed back opening day until mid-May at the earliest after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended restricting events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.

“It’s kind of all over the place in terms of what guys are wanting to do,” Boyd said. “Today we just recommended that guys do what best for their families and what’s best for them to stay ready for when the bell does ring and we can get back out there.”

Boyd isn’t sure what’s best for him and his family. He certainly can’t go home — his home is Seattle where the virus has struck hard. He eventually may head to Detroit, but right now he appears content to stay in Lakeland.

“Perspective is everything,” he said. “There are people who have it tougher than us right now, people who are in less fortunate situations and we are very well aware of that. It’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we just have to move forward with it.

“You really can’t live out of fear, but you have to do things that are smart, things that are in accordance with what the government is saying because you don’t want to put anybody else at risk.”

From a baseball perspective, it’s almost complete limbo, especially for pitchers. There’s a reason pitchers and catchers report to spring training a week earlier than position players. It takes them far longer to get ready.

The regular season opener was two weeks away when MLB announced the shutdown on Thursday. There is no way of knowing when the virus will relent, no way of knowing when the season may start. The estimates now are that it won’t start before June.

So, a player like Boyd, a starting pitcher who already had stretched his pitch count to 60 pitches and was two starts away from taking the ball on Opening Day, is forced to taper back almost to an offseason mode.

“What’s going on is completely unprecedented,” he said. “You have to adapt.”

He’s worked out a conditioning plan with Tigers strength coach Chris Walter. He’s worked out a nutrition and body maintenance plan with his advisers at Athletic Training Institute in Bellevue, Washington. He’s put together a throwing regimen with pitching coach Rick Anderson.

“I was just talking to (pitcher) Daniel Norris in the weight room today about how this is an awesome opportunity for us to get even stronger,” he said. “Normally you are awarded only so many months to push yourself without competition. That’s when you can make a lot of gains.”

Boyd guessed he won’t throw off a mound for a while, at least for a full week. He won’t work on game situations until sometime in April. Mostly, he will work out in the weight room, do his stretching and cardio work and throw off flat ground to keep his arm stretched.

“By no means am I going to regress,” he said. “I’m not going to shut the whole thing down and not train or not throw. But in the same breath, it’s evolving as we learn more. Just make use of the time we have now.

“The skill side, being game ready, that’s taken a back seat because we are in a holding pattern and we have time. It’s just what you make of it.”

Boyd, though, is acutely aware of the stress this is putting on non-roster and minor league players, who on March 25 will stop getting their spring training allowances, with no game checks coming in the foreseeable future.

“It’s going to be really hard,” he said. “I know there are guys on the big-league side who don’t have a lot of (MLB) service time, who have made more substantial money than minor-leaguers and they are going to get (side) jobs right now. That speaks to the kind of hardship that guys with young families face when the paychecks stop rolling in.

“For the minor-leaguers, I can’t imagine how hard it is right now, especially not being able to stay at facilities like this, where quite frankly it’s free for them to work out.”

And the longer it goes, the harsher the impact.

“Not just us, not just the players,” Boyd said. “But stadium workers, people all around the game. I can’t imagine people who make $12,000 a year and that’s their only source of income and now they have to change gears.

“It’s going to be tough.”

Twitter: @cmccosky