February 28th, 2012

Day 9: Throw early, get a leg up

Justin Verlander began throwing sooner than usual before last season to shake his traditional early-season struggles and turned in an MVP season.

Rick Porcello began throwing earlier than usual this past offseason in hopes of strengthening his arm sooner and getting rid of some early struggles.

Max Scherzer began throwing Dec. 1 because his arm was bothering him when he waited until Jan 1.

Different reasons, but the same result: The offseason seems like it’s becoming less of an offseason for pitchers these days.

“My solution,” Scherzer said, “was more throwing.”

Ironically, these early stages of camp aren’t a big deal for Scherzer. Give him a couple of bullpen sessions and a couple of meetings with live hitters, and he’s good to go. But his problem was discomfort, not preparation. By letting his arm rest until January, he would have a tight arm when he got back to throwing.

“I just felt like everything would tighten up,” Scherzer said. “My arm would be so tight it would be something I worried about.”

That doesn’t mean he’s throwing off a mound or attacking hitters before Christmas dinner. But by doing enough throwing to keep his arm loose, it never tightened up. It left him about six weeks of shutdown time for his arm after an extended season, but that’s less of a concern.

By getting his arm ready sooner, he has more time now to work on his pitching — in this year’s case, honing a two-seamer.

Likewise, Porcello’s reasons were partly physical. Still, there was a results-oriented part to it as well.

“I’m trying to get as close to midseason form as I can,” Porcello said when camp began. “For me, it’s a little bit more to do with arm strength, making sure my arm strength is where I need it to be.”

Both guys talked with pitching coach Jeff Jones about their plans before they did it. Jones acknowledged trying to balance rest and work.

“It’s a fine line, there’s no question,” he said. “I spoke to Rick and he had told me he wanted to start throwing his bullpens a little earlier this year, and I said absolutely. He didn’t have a great spring last year, and he wants to do the things, I think, that he did at the end of the season, earlier this year. He wanted to just change his routine a little bit, which I don’t blame him.”

In Scherzer’s case, Jones said, “At the end of the season, even after the season ended, I think he did a little bit of throwing, so it wouldn’t be as long until he threw a ball again. I talked to him a week before the caravan and he said, ‘I feel like I’m way ahead of schedule. I feel great. My arm feels great. I’m really looking forward to getting going.'”

Different things work for different people. Duane Below arrived in Lakeland just after Jan. 1 to get his throwing program going. Adam Wilk threw later than usual so that he could rest his work after throwing more innings than usual.

Actual workout note of the day: Any concern that Joaquin Benoit might be falling behind schedule with his neck tightness seems to be gone. Benoit threw a full session to hitters on Tuesday, a day before he had been re-scheduled, and said he felt fine.

Non-workout note of the day: Verlander doesn’t throw his next session until Wednesday, but he was still on the back fields where pitchers throw. He alternated between batting cages watching Jacob Turner and Drew Smyly pitch, then stuck around to watch more pitchers. In fact, he seems to be spending more time watching other pitchers than any pitcher I can remember in camp. Pretty neat.

Quote of the day: “Here’s my basic philosophy on hitting: If you can hit a fastball, and hit a mistake breaking ball, you’ve got a chance.” — Jim Leyland

Look for pitching prospects in Fla. Southern game

Jim Leyland traditionally starts off the spring training schedule by pitching eight or nine guys for an inning each in the annual exhibition with Florida Southern College. This year, he’s going to do that with some of his younger pitchers in camp.

Leyland mentioned Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby and Drew Smyly among the guys who will pitch in Friday’s exhibition.

The starting lineup will include most of the regulars, who will get one at-bat before giving way to some of the younger position players.

The starting pitching schedule, Leyland said, is mapped out through spring training and beyond. He sat down with pitching coach Jeff Jones to work that out.

“We’ve got all the pitching mapped out through May, June, with one void there,” Leyland said.

The void, obviously, is for the fifth starter spot, which is open for competition here.