Teams deal with staying sharp during virus-induced layoffs

St. Louis and Detroit saw their series at Comerica Park wiped out by the Cardinals' bout with the coronavirus.
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In baseball, a day off is something to savor.

A whole series is a different matter.

“I think in baseball, it’s very routine-oriented, and you start interrupting routines, it gets a little hairy,” Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ll just ad-lib and do the best we can with it. Can’t control it, so no sense in getting too upset about it.”

Gardenhire was speaking Tuesday, after the Tigers‘ one-day break turned into a four-day layoff. Detroit’s series against St. Louis was called off because of issues the Cardinals are having with the coronavirus — and that’s just one major gap in the schedule already brought on by COVID-19. When a team is sidelined by the virus, it affects future opponents as well, and leaves players and managers in an unusual holding pattern.

“Being a starting pitcher, you’re creatures of habit, and so it’s nice to get on a routine,” Milwaukee left-hander Brett Anderson said. “But with the way 2020 is going, you kind of have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Anderson was supposed to start Friday when the Brewers hosted St. Louis, but then that whole series was called off and he had to wait until Monday before finally taking the mound.

“You have to be in the mindset that you’re going to go in there and pitch the next day, even if in the back of your mind, you don’t think it’s going to happen, based off what’s happening with the Cardinals and stuff,” he said. “I did the day-before-my-start process four days in a row.”

By the time the Brewers hosted the Chicago White Sox on Monday, they’d had four straight days off — and they lost both Monday and Tuesday after returning. The Philadelphia Phillies dealt with an even longer break. They played their first three games against the Miami Marlins, who were then sidelined because of a virus outbreak within their team.

The Phillies, who had shared a field with the Marlins, went a whole week without playing a game. MLB subjected the Phillies to more intensive testing, and no positives among players were found. There were three positives among staff, but MLB said two appeared to be false positives.

Philadelphia’s players weren’t allowed to work out at their ballpark on Thursday and Friday. They resumed group training over the weekend, but they didn’t have an ideal way of preparing to face Gerrit Cole and the Yankees on Monday night.

“A lot of time in the cage,” Philadelphia first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “Obviously, we’d like to be able to see some live arm, but with how quickly we had to start back up again, there weren’t a lot of guys that needed to throw live on the field, and then also be ready to pitch (Monday).”

The Phillies lost 6-3 in New York — in a game that included a rain delay of over an hour — and then Tuesday’s game was postponed, giving Philadelphia another day off.

So nearly two weeks into the season, the Phillies have played four games.

“I think it’s really hard to judge our bullpen right now just because we haven’t played in a week, eight days,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Some of these guys hadn’t worked in eight or nine days. We try to get them as much work as we can, but it’s still not game conditions.”

Now the Tigers will deal with a layoff of their own. Gardenhire said his team would have a chance to get some drills in and take batting practice. The days off also allow Detroit to reset its starting rotation — although even that can be tricky.

“If you take one guy that, his turn was up, and then we put him back to the back, it’s a lot of days,” he said. “But that’s why we’re going to do some live stuff out here to get some throwing in with a couple of those guys at the tail end of this rotation.”

In a short season, every week feels significant, and the ability to handle these unexpected breaks could loom large.

“It’s been a strange year, but I really believe our players have adapted to it pretty well,” Girardi said. “And if they continue to do that, good things are going to happen.”