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Bucs stress caution, creativity during downtime

Injury updates on Taillon, Brault, Holmes
@adamdberry
March 25, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- When baseball was put on hold and Pirates players went their separate ways amid the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic, they received two pieces of guidance from the club’s performance team: Stay home and be creative. Although a few players are still taking part in individual

PITTSBURGH -- When baseball was put on hold and Pirates players went their separate ways amid the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic, they received two pieces of guidance from the club’s performance team: Stay home and be creative.

Although a few players are still taking part in individual workouts at the Pirate City complex in Florida, most went home to wait for Spring Training to resume. Local shutdowns and social distancing guidelines have left most of them without gyms or training facilities, but they know they must stay in game shape so they’re ready for whenever it’s deemed safe to reconvene.

Todd Tomczyk, Pittsburgh’s director of sports medicine, explained during a conference call on Wednesday afternoon that members of the performance team -- athletic training staff, strength and conditioning coaches, and physical therapists -- remain in daily contact with players during this pause in organized baseball activities.

“The advice is to stay home. The advice is to listen to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and all the infectious disease experts,” Tomczyk said. “The advice is to get outdoors and walk your dogs, but if you get outdoors and exercise, practice the social distancing. Don’t be in large groups and large crowds.”

Tomczyk said the athletic training staff checks in each day -- via phone call, text message or FaceTime -- to see how players are working out in their homes, backyards or wherever else they can find the space to do so. They’ve figured out ways to throw inside, whether it’s into a net or through a sock drill. Those unable to lift weights can use resistance bands or items around the house. Tomczyk even pointed to the Contreras brothers’ Nerf gun batting practice session as a “creative” way to stay sharp.

“They are antsy, just like everybody else. With elite athletes, they are some of the greatest adapters in the world that we get to work with,” Tomczyk said. “One of our main messages is just being transparent, being collaborative and being open to new ideas and new things, as this is all uncharted for all of us.”

With so few players remaining in Bradenton, Fla., Tomczyk said the Pirates have consolidated their workouts at Pirate City, the club’s Minor League Spring Training facility, rather than continuing to use LECOM Park. There are three weekly, non-structured workouts in “very small” groups, Tomczyk said, in accordance with guidelines passed down by Major League Baseball.

“The safety and security of our coaching staff, our players, is on the top of our list. If that can’t happen, then we’re not even going to have conversations of the social distancing and the unorganized workouts,” Tomczyk said. “But since those precautions and measures are there and we’re doing them, we’re able to at least make it available for them to have these unorganized sessions to allow them to continue to at least prep for the season to come.”

From the trainer’s room
Tomczyk provided updates on three pitchers at Pirate City who are currently working their way back from injuries.

• Right-hander Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery) reached another milestone this week as he began playing catch from 120 feet. Tomczyk reiterated that the Pirates are taking a big-picture approach to Taillon’s rehabilitation, getting him ready to pitch for the rest of his career but not this year.

“This is for the long haul,” Tomczyk said.

• Left-hander Steven Brault (strained left shoulder) is still strengthening his lower half and his throwing shoulder, but he has not yet resumed throwing. Right-hander Clay Holmes (fractured right fibula) is progressing through a throwing program on one knee, one of those “creative” methods Tomczyk referenced, in order to keep his arm conditioned.

Neither pitcher would have been active for Opening Day if it took place on Thursday. But with the start of the season delayed, it’s possible both could be ready whenever the Pirates play their first game.

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“Due to this postponement, there’s an opportunity that exists for these two gentlemen in particular. Whenever baseball resumes, whenever the season is going to start, our goal is to get them ready for the season,” Tomczyk said. “If the season were to start [Thursday], unfortunately both Clay and Steven would be on the [injured list]. Whenever we get clearance and whenever baseball does resume, I’m optimistic, and they’re optimistic, that they will be in the conversation and have the coaching staff make the hard decision of whether they can or cannot.”

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