Major League Baseball’s opening day would’ve been five days from Saturday. Instead, baseball — like the rest of the world — sits stuck in a waiting pattern due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Eventually, baseball does hope to begin a truncated season. Questions are running rampant as to how the league will go about such, especially in how it handles a mini-spring training to prepare players again for the regular slate.
The last time MLB endured a shortened schedule was 1995, when the 162-game slate was cut to 144 because of a strike. The strike ended on April 2, when replacement players were dismissed, and opening day came 23 days later.
While this season will be trimmed further than 18 games, history provides somewhat of a blueprint, according to heralded former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone.
Mazzone, 71, was the organization’s pitching coach from 1990-2005, working with the legendary ‘Big Three’ of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, along with a bevy of other impressive starters, Steve Avery and Kent Mercker among them.
Mazzone was tasked with readying Braves pitchers in 1995, when the team finally broke through and won the World Series at the conclusion of the condensed season. As he recalled, it wasn’t overly difficult preparing his pitchers on a shorter timetable.
“We started our spring in normal fashion,” Mazzone said. “We wanted to get them ready for five innings instead of seven, eight or nine. By their third or fourth start, they were pitching deeper in games. We didn’t change anything other than preparing them for five as opposed to seven. We kept a normal routine.”
Mazzone was correct: In the Braves’ first five games in 1995, four of their starters went five innings: Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Mercker. Avery went 3-1/3 but exceeded five in his next outing.
Maddux, Glavine and Avery hit seven frames in their fourth starts. Smoltz and Mercker hit eight in their fourth. While pitchers don’t go as deep into games during this era, the preparation remains similar.
Mazzone feels starters need three, or preferably four simulated starts to build up for the season. It was no different for relievers, who just threw on their regularly scheduled days. Mazzone estimated roughly three weeks of a mini-spring training is necessary. That’d align with 1995’s schedule.
The AJC will have more from our conversation with Mazzone later, including his further recollections of readying for the ’95 season and thoughts on the present-day Braves.
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