How Rays get pitchers ready without knowing what they’re getting ready for

Rays Tales: Pitching coach Kyle Snyder has no precedent to work from, but feels certain it is time to get his guys going.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Charlie Morton took part in a the voluntary workout at Tropicana Field on Friday.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Charlie Morton took part in a the voluntary workout at Tropicana Field on Friday. [ WILL VRAGOVIC | Tampa Bay Rays ]
Published Jun. 7, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Kyle Snyder’s work is typically very structured.

He goes into spring training with a detailed plan for every one of his Rays pitchers, counted out backward from opening day, building on and backing off their throwing schedule to have them properly prepped. He monitors their workloads closely.

Now he is tasked with getting his pitchers ready for a hoped-for season without knowing exactly what he’s getting them ready for — how much advance notice they’ll have, when games will start, how many they’ll play.

Related: How MLB's shortened draft could leave the Rays short-handed

“Has it been challenging? Probably more than I’ve let on," Snyder said Friday. “So much is centered around time, and the management of it. But you don’t have anything to work from, and work backwards from."

He tries not to get too far ahead, like wondering how the rotation gets set up if the season is a 48-game sprint to expanded playoffs vs. 82 or more. He revisits offseason concerns about monitoring workloads, especially for pitchers who missed time in 2019. He considers how the Rays’ depth and versatility should be a benefit adapting to the unusual schedule and expected expanded staffs.

And he closely listens, watches videos and now, with pitchers throwing three times a week at the Trop, looks on live to assess where each of them are, what they will need to get ready, and how much recovery time they’ll need.

“Not knowing has forced me think a little bit differently," Snyder said. “But I probably err at this point on the side of preparing these guys and then having to slow them down as opposed to them just getting ambushed."

The plan is to get the starters and bulk-inning pitchers on the mound first, and he’s been pleased with how good they look. Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos and Brendan McKay threw bullpen sessions Friday, joined by veteran Charlie Morton, making his first appearance at the workouts that started May 25 with limited activities.

Pitching coach Kyle Snyder and Ryan Yarbrough share a socially-distanced high five during a voluntary workout at Tropicana Field.
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder and Ryan Yarbrough share a socially-distanced high five during a voluntary workout at Tropicana Field. [ WILL VRAGOVIC | Tampa Bay Rays ]

Others, such as Tyler Glasnow (“He’s ready right now"), Jalen Beeks and Anthony Banda, have been throwing off mounds elsewhere. Blake Snell this week will start doing so, for the first time since spring training, at a facility near his Seattle home.

With an early-July start to the season rumored but nothing set, Snyder feels it’s time to get busy.

“I don’t think these guys getting prepared at this point is a bad thing," Snyder said. “They can get better. They can get going. Let’s be responsible about it, depending on what they’ve done over the last eight to 10 weeks. Let’s not be hitting the pause button any longer. Let’s not be in this idle phase. Let’s go ahead and start getting things ramped up a little bit physically. That way we’ll be better prepared, and it’s not like these guys will feel they like they need to be ready in a moment’s notice, which nobody wants."

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Related: Rays pitchers throw off bullpen mounds for first time since return

While Snyder compared the work they are doing now as being similar to late January on a normal offseason schedule, the reality is they had already been through a month of spring training and were pitching in games before the mid-March coronavirus shutdown. He thinks it’s a good thing they’ve had a few months since then. He figures they can back off again if they need to. He admits he doesn’t know for sure.

“I have to respect the fact that there’s no precedent for this," Snyder said.

The close relationships Snyder has with many of the pitchers, and the ensuing trust, is a critical advantage in figuring out who is ready for more work, or needs to taper off. Though in only his third season as the big-league pitching coach, he spent six before that building rapport in the Rays’ minor-league system.

Brendan McKay warms up during a voluntary workout at Tropicana Field.
Brendan McKay warms up during a voluntary workout at Tropicana Field. [ WILL VRAGOVIC | Tampa Bay Rays ]

“If I was in a brand new situation I’d feel a heck of a lot worse about where we are and not really confident about where guys stand physically," he said. “I’m lucky in that respect. I trust my players to share things with me that if you don’t know them and you haven’t earned that yet, that might not occur. …

“Pride prevails a lot of times with these pitchers, and it’s important that it doesn’t prevail now as we lead up to this because it’s going to be important that they’re honest with us about where they stand."

Uncle Charlie

Morton, 36, said in February this might be his final season (though the Rays hold a 2021 option), so it will be interesting how the extra time at home and abbreviated-at-best schedule shapes his thinking. Snyder said there is no doubt about this season: “Charlie is ready to go, he’s certainly ready to pitch. He’s in a great place. He wants to play. … I was really pleased with what I saw. He’s been at home mostly working out on his own. He got up on the mound and he was as sharp as he was at any point of spring training. So that was really encouraging."

Related: Change did the Rays good in improving draft results

Draft rumblings

The only consensus among the experts is their latest mock drafts have little consensus on what the Rays will do Wednesday with the No. 24 pick. projects them taking Texas high school right-hander Jared Kelley, The Athletic has Duke right-hander Bryce Jarvis, has California prep outfielder Peter Crow-Armstrong, has Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin, Bleacher Report has Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin, ESPN has Miami right-hander Slade Cecconi (and Illinois high school shortstop Ed Howard at No. 37), Baseball America has North Carolina first baseman Aaron Sabato (and California prep right-hander Jared Jones). … ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel said a “dream scenario” fit for the Rays would be Masyn Winn, a Texas high schooler who projects to be a two-way player as a power-hitting athletic shortstop with a fastball that hits 96 mph and is considered a top 50 pick. … Tampa-based Dwight Gooden Jr., son of Doc, is in the advising business and working with draft prospect Damaurys Rodriguez, a switch-hitting high school catcher from PA.

Related: History shows Rays are savvy picking after the fifth round

Rays rumblings

Given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to re-open Florida and welcome pro sports, it’s worth noting Texas plans to allow fans in stadiums at 50 percent capacity, and the Dallas Morning News cited sources saying MLB “is inclined” to defer to local governance. So some teams could have fans? And what about health and safety protocol agreements with the players? … Reliver Colin Poche had a funny tweet: “Day number ?? without baseball: Intentionally drove into traffic just so I could remember what it felt like to get out of a jam." … Ex-Rays exec and now Red Sox boss Chaim Bloom sold his five-bedroom house on St. Pete’s Snell Isle for $1.17 million. Former Rays pitcher Doug Waechter, an agent with the Douglas Elliman firm, declined to comment on the sale but was the closer. … Austin Meadows was third on Jim Bowden’s list of top leftfielders for The Athletic; Kevin Kiermaier didn’t make the centerfielders’ top 10. …. Brandon Lowe had tweaked his swing, telling Neil Solondz on a Rays Radio podcast that he added a heel tap, modeled after ex-Ray Avisail Garcia. … Pittsburgh media pulled no punches after last week’s news that Chris Archer, 6-12, 4.92 since traded from the Rays in July 2018, would miss the season due to surgery.’s John Perrotto called him among the Pirates’ “biggest busts” and termed the trade (for Meadows, Glasnow and prospect Shane Baz) the “worst in Pittsburgh sports history.” … Lefty Nick Sprengel, a 2018 15th pick from the University of San Diego, retired because he wanted to go back to school. … Thursday marked six years since the death of Don Zimmer, who is missed across baseball every day.