Detroit — In the time between the closing of spring training in March and the reopening of Summer Camp at Comerica Park — which is coming to be known as “spring training 2.0,” there was some uncertainty about when things would get restarted.
Without Major League ballparks to get their work done in, some players were limited to their homes, if they had enough space to throw or do drills, or find an alternative. For Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd, it was a tireless search for available local indoor facilities, or even to public parks.
Boyd’s partner in the nomadic local journey was Tigers teammate John Schreiber, a local product who played at Gibraltar Carlson High School. In the midst of the pandemic, they partnered up to stay in baseball shape and to keep their arms ready for whenever the season would resume.
“(Boyd) texted me and asked what I was doing and I was trying to throw with somebody and he let me know where he was going, so I was hopping around with him from park to park,” Schreiber said Thursday. “I was thankful that he was able to help me out here in Michigan.”
Schreiber, 26, was a 15th-round pick by the Tigers in 2016 and made his Major League debut out of the bullpen last season, appearing in 13 games. In 13 innings, he had 19 strikeouts but gave up 16 hits, including three home runs.
It made for a winter of tinkering and preparation for this season, but after a slow start in spring training, Schreiber didn’t feel like he was at his peak in preparation for the season. In Lakeland, he appeared in three innings in four games and had three earned runs and four walks.
The control just wasn’t there.
“When I first showed up to spring training, I felt like I didn’t have all my stuff at all and then COVID started happening and I was able to really focus on trying to get the feel for my pitches back,” he said. “Coming into spring training 2.0, I felt so much better with my pitches and I was having way better command with my slider than I did the first go around, so I’m happy to have this little restart to try and get a better feel for myself.”
The right-hander has been working on his change-up and is looking for that to be the most improved pitch in his arsenal. He’s also been working on slowing himself down and getting a better feel for his pitches.
He’s looking to take another step forward to start the season, with a young bullpen that figures to get a little more work in a 60-game sprint of a season that begins next week in Cincinnati.
The park-hopping experience gave Schreiber a chance to pick Boyd’s brain and to work on his approach on the mound. Those little nuggets can pay big dividends for a young pitcher
“He gave me a lot of advice and a lot of it pertained to just slowing down the game and really focusing on how you’re feeling on this pitch, what you’re going to do on the next pitch and just really trying to slow it down and think about what you’re doing out on the mound,” Schreiber said. “He gave me some great advice. “It’s just awesome having him here, just being able to train with him and talking to him, it was awesome.”
Their travels did yield an odd experience, when Schreiber said they were at an indoor facility and didn’t measure the distance to the practice home plate — and it ended up being about 70 feet away.
“There were four plates, one behind each other and we thought we measured it out to the right plate,” Schreiber said, laughing. “So, we put it back to the last plate and it (should have been) the second plate. It was like 10 feet out of it. So, after that bullpen, my arm was just gone the next day.”
Beyond Boyd, Schreiber and some of the other young pitchers in the bullpen are getting some advice from Buck Farmer and Joe Jimenez, who anchor the back end of the bullpen. It’s an unusual mentorship group, with Farmer only 29 years old and Jimenez 25.
“(Farmer’s) been around for a while now and he definitely knows what he’s doing out there and we’re going to go to him and Joe for advice and they’re going to give it to us because they’re the main guys back there,” Schreiber said.
It’s not a particularly veteran pitching group — with six years of experience for Farmer and three for Jimenez — but during the Tigers’ rebuild, it’ll be a chance to build for the future.