Pitchers Are Creatures of Habit. A Season of Chaos Is Testing Them.

on baseballSome have resorted to throwing against mattresses in quarantine. Some have sustained early injuries. And all pitchers are trying to cope without their normal routines.Shohei Ohtani warming up during summer training in July. He is one of several high-profile pitchers who have sustained injuries in the first couple weeks of the season.Credit…Sean M. Haffey/Getty…

Pitchers Are Creatures of Habit. A Season of Chaos Is Testing Them.

on baseballSome have resorted to throwing against mattresses in quarantine. Some have sustained early injuries. And all pitchers are trying to cope without their normal routines.Shohei Ohtani warming up during summer training in July. He is one of several high-profile pitchers who have sustained injuries in the first couple weeks of the season.Credit…Sean M. Haffey/Getty ImagesOf all the elements that make baseball distinctive, nothing compares to pitching. In what other team sport does the most influential player spend most of the schedule resting? Training for the treacherous job of throwing overhand repeatedly, at high speeds, requires careful calibration and strict routines.And then there is 2020, when quarantined pitchers are firing baseballs into hotel-room mattresses to stay loose.“I lined up the mattress, I set up chairs to act as hitters, and I would throw for about a half-hour every day, just trying to simulate something, just trying to make sure I was putting some velocity into it so the arm stayed in shape,” said Miami Marlins pitcher Brandon Kintzler, whose teammate, Elieser Hernandez, had the same idea. “Hernandez’s room was next to me, and I know he was doing the same thing, because I could hear the ball bouncing everywhere.”Kintzler and his teammates were effectively trapped in their hotel rooms for a week after an outbreak of positive tests for the coronavirus tore through the Marlins’ roster after their first series last month, in Philadelphia. The St. Louis Cardinals, too, hunkered down in their Milwaukee hotel for five days after their own outbreak on July 30. Jack Flaherty threw baseballs into his mattress, Adam Wainwright into his pillows.Beyond the health risks of the virus itself, the pandemic scrambled the preparation of baseball’s most finely tuned creatures. When Major League Baseball shut down in mid-March, the sport was four weeks into its six-week spring training. Three and a half months of inactivity followed, then teams held three-week summer training camps for a 60-game season that started on July 23.Somewhat predictably, the early season has been marked by a rash of arm injuries. No type of pitcher has been spared, from rookies like A.J. Puk to the 40-year-old Rich Hill, middle relievers like Tommy Kahnle to closers like Ken Giles. High-profile casualties include Cy Young Award winners (Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber), World Series most valuable players (Cole Hamels, Stephen Strasburg) and Shohei Ohtani, the celebrated two-way player for the Los Angeles Angels.“Pitchers are a unique breed, and they rely very heavily on getting into the flow, where everything seems to slow down and it just goes exactly right,” said Dr. Anthony Romeo, a former team physician for the Chicago White Sox.“I think that’s something many pitchers are experiencing this year, that the only normal part of their life is on the pitching mound, and everything else is completely disrupted — how they interact with their teammates, how they travel, how they interact with their families. All of that is a tremendous distraction, and I think it’s real
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