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OC Register: Five spring training trends you might have missed

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Spring training doesn’t count, right?

The wins, losses and ties sure don’t, but every now and then something happens on a back field in Florida or Arizona that baseball hasn’t seen before. It might be a trend, a fluke, or a subtle signal of change. These things don’t stand out in box scores, but they’re more important than the box scores.

Here are five interesting wrinkles you might have missed from the past month.


The Red Sox brought back eight of the 10 pitchers who contributed to their World Series victory last October. Those eight combined to pitch 42-2/3 innings in the five-game series against the Dodgers. Through Tuesday, they had combined to pitch 36-2/3 innings in 24 Grapefruit League games.

A similar story is playing out in the Dodgers camp. Clayton Kershaw has yet to appear in a game, Walker Buehler only debuted Tuesday, and Julio Urías has been handled with kid gloves from the outset. What’s going on here?

Meet the “slow play,” a strategy designed to combat the dreaded postseason hangover. Kershaw was legitimately hurt, but Buehler and Urías are pacing like marathoners with the end of another long race on the horizon. Injured list stints tend to peak in April, and one study calculated the rate is 34 percent higher for pitchers than position players. That’s probably why pitchers tend to get the “slow play” treatment more frequently.

It cheapens the thrill of seeing the defending World Series participants when the Dodgers’ leader in Cactus League innings (Ross Stripling) didn’t even participate in the World Series. You might not remember this in six months. Maybe these teams are counting on it.


One morning early in March, a group of nine Angels players headed to the outfield at Tempe Diablo Stadium with two oversized blankets. They split into two groups and tried to propel a large white ball from one blanket to the other. Sometimes you’ll hear players wax poetic about being able to “play a kid’s game for a living”; this was an elementary school drill performed by grown men, a strange sight. Such a thing would not have occurred under Mike Scioscia’s watch.

In theory, a light, player-friendly moment like this might bond a team in a meaningful way. With a younger crop of managers leading the way, these moments are more common.

First-year Rangers skipper Chris Woodward raised eyebrows in February when he told reporters his new team was a closer-knit group than the Dodgers, who employed Woodward as their third base coach from 2015-18. The Rangers are widely projected to finish last in the American League West. The Dodgers had just been to the World Series two years in a row. Chemistry can’t matter that much. Right?

Woodward considers it fundamental. When he took over the Rangers, he told me, “I stressed with these guys: ‘let’s get as deep as we possibly can so we know each other intimately, so we can really lean on each other, then push each other when we feel like we need to.’ That’s where it’s really important.”

Contrast that with the authoritarian approach of a generation ago. Montreal Expos manager Tom Runnells once addressed the team on the first day of spring training wearing military fatigues. He probably preached a different message than Woodward brought to Texas.

“The one thing I told our guys the other day in the weight room, first and foremost I want to make sure I tell all you guys: We care,” Woodward said. “As a staff, I care deeply about every one of you guys. I may release you tomorrow. Doesn’t change the fact that we still care about you.”


I joked in this space a couple of weeks ago about the logistics of fitting all 1,200 members of the MLB Players’ Association in one room. The Dodgers, Rangers and White Sox had just held a joint players-only meeting with some union leaders at an off-site locale. Days later, the A’s, Rockies and Diamondbacks did the same.

Maybe there was more to the location than mere logistics.

When union chief Tony Clark met with the Detroit Tigers players recently, they convened outdoors on a back field. Days later, Clark and players on the New York Yankees did the same. It was reported that each team was concerned about team officials surveilling meetings in the clubhouse. Ironically, meeting off-site or outdoors offered a greater sense of privacy.

Blame technology. Blame the high stakes of collective bargaining. It’s always startling when the clubhouse isn’t a safe space for players.


We were promised pitchers who would hit, hitters who would pitch, and whatever the Angels’ medical staff was allowing Shohei Ohtani to do on a daily basis. The last month did not disappoint. Through Tuesday’s games, here’s who has tried both pitching and hitting in major league camp:

• Michael Lorenzen (Reds P/OF):3 AB 1 H 1 BB 2 K8 IP 7 H 3 ER 2 BBs 6 Ks

• Matt Davidson (Rangers P/3B):37 AB 8 H 3 HRs 5 RBIs 4 BBs 15 KsPitched in an intrasquad game Monday, won’t pitch in Cactus League games

• Kaleb Cowart (Angels P/IF):9 AB 2 H 1 HR 5 RBIs 1 BB 5 KsHas pitched in minor league and intrasquad games so far

• Jared Walsh (Angels P/OF/1B):19 AB 5 H 0 HR 5 RBIs 4 BBs 4 Ks6-1/3 IP 3 H 4 ER 4 BBs 4 Ks

This list excludes the two-way players who did not receive invitations to their teams’ major league camps like Hunter Greene (Reds), William English (Angels), Bo Way (Angels) and Brendan McKay (Rays).


MLB’s earliest adopters of ball-tracking technology like Rapsodo and Edgertronic might call these devices “so 2018.” For a time, these were considered trade secrets. Maybe it helped that two of the early adopters, the Astros and Dodgers, met in the 2017 World Series. In a copycat league, the secret’s out.

This year it seems like an Edgertronic camera is behind every mound, and Rapsodo’s little black boxes in front of them – from bullpens to back fields to sim games. Rapsodos spit out data like spin rate, spin efficiency, gyro degree, vertical break and horizontal break. Edgertronic cameras capture what that looks like at 1,000 frames per second – “super slo-mo,” if you will.

Not every pitcher is a data disciple, but it’s there for them if they want it.

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