Mattingly ready for new way of baseball

July 1st, 2020

MIAMI -- With three weeks to prepare for a 60-game regular season, Marlins manager Don Mattingly and his staff are planning to have the players ready to hit the ground running.

Summer Camp opened on Wednesday with players reporting, and the first workouts are set for Friday at two locations -- Marlins Park and the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.

During a Zoom call on Wednesday morning, Mattingly noted that the season will be "a sprint," while adding the Marlins consider themselves in a shortened-season pennant push.

"The biggest thing we'll be trying to do is make sure that we get in physical shape, safely," Mattingly said. "We can't have guys trying to get back in shape too fast. We'll try to get guys up to game speed."

From a preparation standpoint, that means less focus on basic drills and more emphasis on game-like situations. In batting practice, pitchers will face pitchers more than what would be done traditionally in the early days of Spring Training.

"There will be a lot more live BPs, sim-type game situations," Mattingly said. "More of that and less of the drill work."

Mattingly, the big league staff and players expected to be on the Opening Day roster will be training at Marlins Park. The remaining players are mostly prospects who will work with Minor League staff in Jupiter.

Due to strict protocols, everyone on the field will be abiding by a new set of rules.

"Our workouts will be staggered," Mattingly said. "We'll have smaller groups. But the main thing we'll be doing is trying to get them into game mode right away."

MLB is in the process of returning to the field after being shut down for three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Opening Day will be either July 23 or 24, and to mitigate travel, the Marlins will be playing the National League East for 40 games, while the remaining 20 will be against the American League East.

"We've got lots of hurdles," Mattingly said. "That's one of the things we will talk about. With all of the hurdles and all of the protocols and all the things we'll have to deal with -- as a player and as a staff member -- everything has changed."

Social distancing measures will apply. Player celebrations, high fives, spitting and even throwing the ball around the infield after an out have been outlawed.

"You know, as a baseball player, you have routines," shortstop Miguel Rojas said on a Zoom call. "These routines have been developed for a long time -- like getting to the ballpark really early in the afternoon. This is not going to be the case. The case is getting to the ballpark at a time when you can get your work done."

Previously, players were used to arriving more than five hours before first pitch. Now, they can't be there earlier than four hours.

"For me, that's going to be one of the biggest challenges that we have, other than spitting, drinking water in the clubhouse, not spitting on the field," said Rojas.

Even with the mandated changes of habits, Mattingly made it clear the Marlins have a single-minded focus: They intend to compete for a playoff spot.

"Also, we're going to celebrate the fact that we're in a pennant race," Mattingly said. "It's exciting to be in a pennant race. Our guys are going to get great experience being in this, because it is a different style of baseball. You will be making your decisions differently, as far as on-field stuff and what we are trying to do."

Openly discussing the playoffs may sound strange from a franchise that lost 105 games in 2019. But the organization has plenty of optimism, because the club feels like it is turning the corner in its building process.

Many core players are starting to enter their prime, and waves of high-end prospects are close to reaching the big leagues.

"The importance of every game gets jacked up because of the shortness of the season," Mattingly said. "So, again, this is more of a sprint-type season, not a long-range view to things. Things will be different. We have to get our guys to overcome that right away.

"It obviously makes it a sprint, and it might in a sense help us, but we were feeling pretty good about things."