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Shelton on Pirates' game-readiness and more

@adamdberry
June 26, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Most years, Spring Training is at least six weeks long so starting pitchers have enough time to get ready for the season. It’s a gradual progression, starting with short bullpens then longer bullpens before live batting practice and, finally, games. And the last part of the process takes

PITTSBURGH -- Most years, Spring Training is at least six weeks long so starting pitchers have enough time to get ready for the season. It’s a gradual progression, starting with short bullpens then longer bullpens before live batting practice and, finally, games. And the last part of the process takes a month as pitchers stretch out their arms to throw six innings.

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When pitchers and catchers report to PNC Park next week to begin summer camp workouts, they’ll only have about three weeks to prepare for the start of the season. Pirates manager Derek Shelton feels like his starting staff will be in good shape from the jump.

“Honestly, our guys are already built up to four, five innings,” Shelton said earlier this week. “[Pitching coach Oscar Marin has] done a really good job of building up our group in terms of where they’re at and what their function is. … Most of our pitchers have been in a situation where they’ve been facing hitters for over two weeks now.”

Indeed, the group of Pirates pitchers already in town managed to get its work in by finding other places around Pittsburgh to throw on Friday. Whether those four or five innings immediately translate to game-readiness remains to be seen, but it’s notable that the pitchers won’t be restarting from scratch. Shelton also noted that, with the designated hitter in play, pitchers won’t have to worry about preparing themselves to hit.

“It doesn’t put our pitchers in a position, coming back in a quick Spring Training situation, where they have to worry about being multi-faceted. They can worry about doing what they’re paid to do, and that’s pitch,” Shelton said. “And hopefully by having this, we’re eliminating injuries of a pitcher maybe being on the bases or something happening on a swing, because of the fact that we’ve had a shortened Spring Training.”

Shelton said the Pirates are more concerned with transitioning their position players back into game-type activity, as it could be a shock to their systems to face live pitching for the first time in three months. Shelton has often cited injury prevention as one of the bigger challenges facing managers in a shortened season like this.

“We normally let guys get their feet wet. How you use your bench players, especially, is going to be important. Over a long season, you have a tendency to use your bench players a little bit more to rest your regulars,” Shelton said. “Part of that is going to be what happens with what shape our guys come into camp, because it’s two-fold. No. 1, you want to make sure you’re playing the guys in the best leverage situations possible. No. 2, you have to make sure you keep guys healthy because a simple oblique, hamstring or quad pull, you could lose guys for [more than] half your season now.”

Minor League payment extended
The Pirates have committed to paying their Minor League players $400 per week through the end of July, according to a source, and anticipate doing so for the rest of the season.

Pittsburgh released 39 Minor Leaguers just before the MLB Draft, but the club still has a relatively large organizational roster. Now, those players -- even those who aren’t included in the club’s 60-man Player Pool for this season -- will continue to be paid.

Baseball ops restructuring begins
The Pirates let go of approximately 15 employees within their baseball operations department on Friday, informing them that they were not part of the organization’s plans heading into next year, according to a source. Those former employees will continue to be paid through Oct. 31 while receiving benefits through the end of the calendar year.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which first reported the news, those employees were mostly Minor League instructors, part of the scouting department or involved in the club’s operations in the Dominican Republic. The Post-Gazette also reported on Thursday that the Pirates made approximately 25 layoffs on the business side.

There was bound to be some restructuring in the baseball operations department under general manager Ben Cherington. Multiple sources described Friday’s moves as the beginning of that restructuring, taking place only after Cherington spent months evaluating the staff he inherited.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.