Os toned down approach helps keep guys healthy
SARASOTA, Fla. — About two years ago, Chris Tillman bought in. The right-hander, who is slated to make his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Orioles on Monday against the Rays, stopped throwing the day before and the day after a start. No long toss, no catch, nothing with his throwing arm.
“I did the math and talking to [fellow starters Wei-Yin] Chen and [Kevin] Gausman and [Miguel Gonzalez] Gonzo about it, I’m not throwing two days around my start,” Tillman said. “Say I make 30 starts. That’s 60 days of not throwing, that’s two months of the season that I’m not throwing. And over your career, that’s a big difference, that’s a lot of recovery. So I think it makes all the sense in the world to do your work on the mound and try to save your bullets.”
That’s precisely the goal in the Orioles’ recovery program, the beginnings of which date back 15 years under head athletic trainer Richie Bancells. The program has really taken off recently as it’s been accepted and implemented throughout the organization.
“The thing that boggles my mind is guys think they have to do something every day with their arm,” said Bancells, who is in his 31st year as a trainer with Baltimore. “That’s when the education process starts. It really has not been a hard sell [to pitchers new to the organization]. They see what our guys here do and they see that it’s been successful. A lot of times, guys won’t even wait to see me watch what they do. They’ll just say, ‘Tell me about your program, l want to do your program.'”
The Orioles, who haven’t had a pitcher on the 25-man roster undergo Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery since manager Buck Showalter took the helm in late 2010, aren’t on to anything new. But perhaps what sets them apart from other organizations is that they are unrelenting in keeping their guys out of harm’s way. The biggest complaint Showalter heard while serving as an ESPN analyst was about the way bullpen guys were managed. To that end, every pitch an O’s reliever throws — be it in warmups or in the game — is tracked by the team, their workouts and exercises adjusted by the trainers based off of that.
“Are you going to back off a guy when you could really use him that night? We may not put our best foot forward Monday, so that we can win Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” Showalter said. “We may go with a guy that the situation may not call for, but we look at the big picture here. The conviction to who we are and how we have to do it. We can’t afford to have certain guys go down [due to overuse injuries]. If it happens with a line drive or a twist of the ankle, so be it.
“We just can’t afford to play like that. Say anything you want to about our last three years, it’s because our pitching has gotten better. Gotten healthier. I’m watching all these velocities go up this spring and usually you have that dead arm period here.”
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