ANAHEIM -- Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway said it was a challenge to get the club’s pitchers ready during the coronavirus lockdown, but that he’s been pleased with where they’re at so far in Summer Camp.
Callaway utilized Zoom and texts with pitchers after Spring Training was shut down in mid-March, and he believes they were mostly able to get their normal work in heading into camp. Angels starters should be stretched out enough to reach roughly 90-100 pitches by the time Opening Day comes around on July 24, which gives Callaway confidence that they’ll be physically ready. Callaway has also been hosting individual meetings with players after they throw at Angel Stadium to give them feedback.
“We keep it to one-on-one on the days they throw,” Callaway said via Zoom on Tuesday. “We do have a group text. I think it’s been productive. They’ve had a lot of energy at Blair Field [the Angels' alternate training site] from the reports we get. And here, I’m pleased with the way they’re throwing the ball over the plate. I think the beginning was a little rough and these guys are really focusing on the right thing. The thing I will say about this group is they definitely came in prepared.”
Callaway added that he believes it’s more challenging to motivate players without being there in person, so he uses the group text among the pitchers to send out motivational words of encouragement and videos every day. He used motivational videos as a tactic as Cleveland’s pitching coach and believes it can be helpful.
“It’s something I’m pretty passionate about,” Callaway said. “Obviously, this is a unique situation where you don’t get to motivate people in person. I’ve used motivating videos in the past. I think the players really respond. I send them out on a daily basis. I hope it helps them.”
Callaway has had the chance to evaluate pitchers even more during intrasquad games over the last week but said one problem that arises is that pitchers often don’t think when throwing to their own hitters. He believes that’s why Shohei Ohtani struggled in his first outing last week, as Ohtani didn’t want to establish his inside fastball and was yanking his breaking pitches as well. But he believes the main benefit is the pitchers are facing what he believes is the best lineup in baseball, pitching to hitters such as Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton and Ohtani.
“You're facing your guys, so you might not be as committed to really throwing a ball inside the way you want to,” Callaway said. “That's probably the biggest hindrance, is really working on those pitches you want to get in against your Spring Training foes, that you usually get to do during regular Spring Training. So that's probably the biggest downfall. You're always worried about one slipping out, and plunking one of your own guys.”
Callaway, though, has been impressed from what he’s seen from his relievers, including closer Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey, Cam Bedrosian, Noé Ramirez, Keynan Middleton, Mike Mayers, Jacob Barnes and Neil Ramírez. He also has experience with new addition Jacob Rhame, as he served as his manager with the Mets over the last two seasons. He sees Rhame as a hard-thrower with high spin rates and thinks he could be a solid reliever if given enough chances.
The bullpen will be important this year, especially early with the expanded rosters. Manager Joe Maddon has said he’ll likely have a quicker hook with starting pitchers this year, given how important each game is during a 60-game season. Callaway believes the shorter season will allow him to ride his relievers a bit more without having to worry about them losing their effectiveness.
“I think that in a 60-game season, if you get a guy that throws 25 to 30 games, that's easily doable,” Callaway said. “I'm sure that we're going to maximize this great bullpen that we have. Joe is probably a master at that. I’ve seen it firsthand in the playoffs, I've seen it firsthand during the season. And he really understands that using these guys with these great arms can really be impactful to help you win a game, even if it's a little bit earlier in the game.”