Teams recognize 'sense of urgency' as baseball stumbles toward Opening Day

PHOENIX – Everything about the 2020 major league baseball season has a different feel. From social distancing, to health and safety protocols, to media responsibility and the need to be vigilant, all now change dramatically.

That includes the players’ perspective.

Perhaps the most important variable which players and staff generate is to process a shortened baseball season. Until this truncated experience, teams had the luxury of slipping past a game or two, or even a few. In the course of 162 games, there was always the possibility to recover and, if a club became hot, that movement could mean a heightened competitive spirit.

Now, that all changed, and the reality of a short, 60-game schedule hit players like a runaway freight train. No longer is there the luxury of wading out a few games and rely on recovery. Now, each game assumes great importance and teams do not have the comfort of slipping behind.

“There is an intense scene now on every pitch,” said closer Archie Bradley, who will be 28 years-old on Aug. 10. “Once we begin, I don’t think anybody has room to experiment or make significant adjustments. For me, I’ll rely on past experience.”

Bradley enters the 2020 season as an important piece of the Diamondbacks quest for success. Anointed as the closer and leader of the back end of the bullpen, Bradley picked up 18 saves a year ago and recorded a 3.52 ERA. Over the course of five major league seasons, he recorded 402 strikeouts in 393.2 innings of work and that’s better than one K per inning.

“We’re excited to get back and for me, I missed of the guys and being around everyone every day,” he added. “At the same time, we’re doing what we are supposed to be doing.”

In Bradley’s case, and his admission “I’m taking things more seriously,” that had a direct impact. His dad, Charlie, mom Pam and brother Alex, all contracted COVID-19. His dad was the most serious and required a 10-day hospitalization.

“Now, I’m following the guidelines as close as I can,” he said. “We will do as we are told.”

More on health protocols …

When workouts began last Friday in Chase Field, the roof was on, but outfield panels were open. The air conditioning was off and that was for a reason. The Diamondbacks wanted to test ventilation throughout the building and that’s under the belief that the greater the air circulation, the less a chance the virus can travel.

As with everything else in the pandemic, this roof protocol is not etched in stone and subject to further analysis and examination.

Let the games begin …
As workouts begin, the Diamondbacks divided their squad between Chase Field and Salt River, the team’s spring training facility. After workouts each day, a designated number of players will be bussed from Salt River to Chase for inter-squad games. At this point, general manager Mike Hazen hopes to schedule two or three exhibition games with other major league teams, but that remains uncertain.

Because of intense, desert heat, workouts at Salt River are confined to the morning hours and will likely conclude before noon. The organization’s games in Chase Field could start around 6 p.m., Hazen said.

On the diamond …

Of the 60-players in camp, Hazen reported that right-handed pitcher Jon Duplantier is currently the only one held out of immediate workouts. In early April, Duplantier developed discomfort in his right elbow and had an MRI. At this point, he has recovered, and Hazen expects the 25-year-old native of Newark, Del. to make a competitive push for the last spot in the rotation. That was effectively vacated last week when right-hander Mike Leake decided to sit out the 2020 season.

Last season, Duplantier, along with Arizona right-hander Merrill Kelly, etched their names in the baseball history books. Against the Padres in San Diego on April 1, Kelly picked up the victory in a 10-3 win and Duplantier recorded the save. In this game, each made their major league debut, and marked the first time in the history of the game that a pitcher, in his initial major league appearance, gained a victory and a pitcher, also in his initial major league appearance, picked up a save in the same game.