Like everyone, Reds pitching coach wondering what will happen next

Derek Johnson knows pitchers will need time to get back in shape if layoff is a long one

The forecast calls for sunny skies and a temperature in the mid-60s on Thursday in Cincinnati. It would have been a perfect Opening Day at Great American Ball Park — if there was any baseball being played at all, or any sports period.

Major League Baseball won’t start until May at the earliest because of the coronavirus pandemic. For the Reds and their fans, that will really hit home this week, even if the absence of baseball is a relatively small problem considering everything else that is going on around the nation related to COVID-19.

“Today’s the 23rd,” Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson said Monday. “This is the day we were to break camp. Later on this afternoon, we would have flown into Cincinnati. We would have gotten our apartments squared away. Tomorrow we would have had a workout in preparation for the 26th. Knowing all the fanfare that’s there in Cincinnati and understanding the magnitude of what it means for Opening Day in Cincinnati, obviously, that’s an exciting time for the coaches and the players and the fans. We’re sitting here all at home wondering what’s going to happen next.”

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Johnson spoke to reporters on a conference call from his home in Nashville. A promising season for his pitching staff has been delayed. Instead of making final plans for the start of the season, Johnson spends his days communicating with his players. The whole team uses the WhatsApp messenger, and there are sub-groups for pitchers and hitters.

Johnson keeps tabs on his players’ health as well as he can from afar and monitors how they are keeping their arms in shape. Not every pitcher has access to a catcher, a mound or even an indoor place to throw.

“In terms of monitoring what guys can and can’t do, there are just so many things right now that are unknown and unprecedented,” he said. “We have guys all over the country and in a couple of different countries. In some places, they can train a little more than others. We have guys who are stuck right now and don’t have a whole lot of places to train.”

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A big question for Johnson and his pitchers is how long will they need to get in shape once baseball does return. He said the six starting pitchers in big-league camp, including Tyler Mahle, who was competing for a spot, were throwing between 57 and 65 pitches in games when spring training was delayed. They would have progressed to 75-80 pitches and then 90-95 before the season opener.

Relievers had made five or six appearances and would have made around 10 by Opening Day.

The whole staff, Johnson said, was “right on course, right where we wanted them to be.”

How much time they’ll need when training resumes depends on the length of the layoff.

“The longer this thing goes, the more time they’ll need to be built up,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, everyone understands this could be one of those situations where injuries could become a huge factor if we don’t do it the right way.”

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