The 2020 major league season is not a 162-game marathon. Rather, it’s a 60-game sprint that includes an obstacle course called the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s uncharted territory for everyone, including Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich and manager Bud Black, who are doing their best to forecast the unpredictable season ahead.
“We are almost literally in a day-to-day operation right now,” Bridich said Monday during a Zoom call with the media. “There are still details about what we are trying to do that are changing daily. To predict or try to predict how this is going to go and how our players are going to respond to the time off … and where this virus will lead us, we don’t know.”
Rockies players, 52 of them, report to “spring camp” Wednesday to begin testing for the virus and be evaluated for their physical condition. Practices begin either Friday or Saturday at Coors Field, and the club plans to utilize the baseball facilities at nearby Metro State University as well. Bridich said that being able to utilize both Coors Field and Metro State will lead to “a smaller and hopefully healthier group” and more efficient workouts.
A normal spring training lasts about six weeks and includes about 30 exhibition games. Now, with the truncated season set to begin July 23-24, time is of the essence, especially when it comes to getting pitchers ready. In the early going, starting pitchers will have their innings limited. The Rockies will take precautions not to push players too far early in the short season at the expense of having them healthy throughout the 60-game season.
“The thing that is most important is getting the guys back in baseball shape,” Black said. “Getting the spikes back on and getting back on the field is important. And we won’t have the benefit of having 30 exhibition games to get ready. So that will be a little different, but everybody is in the same boat.
“But we will, in a very practical way, get our guys ready to play and be ready for our first game. I have to give our players a lot of credit for staying on top of their own, individual physical well being.”
Black acknowledged that pitchers will be on a tight leash, especially early in the season.
“You have to look at the season and realize that it isn’t the long haul that we are used to,” Black said. “There might have to be times where it will look as though we are managing with urgency. The real trick is (with) the pitching.
“Hypothetically, you have (German) Marquez, who is throwing the ball great and maybe his pitch count is a little bit elevated. And maybe he’s at three or four innings and you wish he could go more, because he is dealing. But you might have to take him out, just because we weren’t able to get him to a certain pitch count in this three-week (practice period).”
Black added that the pitching “will be highly monitored,” and said the team would likely “play the hot hand out of the bullpen.”
“We’ll have to look at the schedule right out of the chute to see if there are any off days in there or not, but generally speaking we’ll probably (have) a five-man rotation with some guys who have length who can come in behind them,” Black said. “I’m sure there will be a number of pitchers — depending if we take 15 or 16, whatever number we keep — who are very capable of going a couple innings.
“The first week of games, first 10 games, it’s going to look a lot like the early games of spring training, where there’s a number of pitchers who are being used. But again, it will all be sort of pitch count predicated and we’ll sort of know where we are when we get to, you know, late July when the season starts.”
Following are other highlights:
* Though it’s known that three Rockies players, including all-star right fielder Charlie Blackmon, have tested positive for COVID-19, Bridich said he could not comment on how many positive tests there are among players and staff members from previous tests. More testing will be conducted this week.
* The Rockies’ satellite camp, which would start a few days before the regular season, will be in Albuquerque, where the franchise’s Triple-A team plays. Those players in the 60-man player pool, who are not on the active roster, will workout in Albuquerque.
* The Rockies currently have 52 players available this season, but right-handed pitchers Wes Parsons and Tommy Doyle will be added to the pool when the satellite camp opens in Albuquerque.
* Veteran right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who was attempting a comeback after being out of baseball for two seasons, was not invited to rejoin the Rockies. Jimenez participated in spring training before the coronavirus shut down camp on March 13.
“I can’t speak for him as far as how he’s looking at the rest of his career,” Bridich said. “It was not his decision, it was a call that I made.”
* The Rockies would like to play exhibition games before the regular season begins, but nothing has been finalized. Teams can play up to three exhibition games during summer camp.
“Right now it is something that we would like to do, based on our schedule — and our schedule is being confirmed as well, so there are some outliers,” Bridich said.
Following are some of the key on-field rules that will be used during the 2020 season:
— National League games will include the use of the designated hitter for the first time in history.
— An extra-innings rule will begin each extra inning with a runner on second base.
— As previously announced, the new three-batter minimum rule will require the starting or any relief pitcher to pitch to a minimum of three batters.
— Prohibitions against unsportsmanlike conduct will be strictly enforced to prevent unnecessary physical contact and support physical distancing between individuals on the playing field. In this respect, players and managers should maintain physical distancing from all umpires and opposing players on the playing field whenever possible.