The Orioles hope to begin their delayed season in early July, and pitching coach Doug Brocail can’t wait. Brocail and the Orioles’ new bullpen coach, Darren Holmes, have been regularly checking in with perhaps 35 pitchers.
Brocail and Holmes use Zoom and WhatsApp. In WhatsApp, the pitchers log their daily work. If they fail to do so, they’ll have a day to record it, and if they don’t, they’ll get a call reminding them to do it.
On Zoom, they can discuss their delivery and break it down from their own video.
“Not every day do we talk to them, but every day we’re linked to them,” Brocail said by phone Tuesday. “It’s been a blessing.”
Oriole pitchers have been dutiful about recording their work and doing their work.
“We have them take video of their workouts and their ‘pen sessions,” Brocail said. “A lot of times, we just call and say, ‘Hey, phenomenal job.’”
Brocail compares where the pitchers were when spring training ended and where they are now. He wants pitchers to be able to throw 60-65 pitches, so that if spring training resumes in perhaps two weeks, they’ll be in the proper shape.
“The work has been phenomenal,” Brocail said. “I hope to think that we’re way ahead of everybody else, workwise. If they’re doing exactly what they say they’re doing, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”
Brocail said that Alex Cobb has been especially studious. He did have some concerns about other pitchers, but no longer.
“The thing that worried me as soon as we separated was Latin America was shut down,” Brocail said. Brocail was working to smooth out Miguel Castro’s delivery so that he could better control baserunners.
“We’ve done work with his fastball. We’ve done work with his hands. We’ve done work with his slide step, a quick move to home plate, hand position coming set the same place instead of three different places.
“Now that we have use of the facility down in the Dominican, and somebody that can video that can send all that stuff, we can get on Zoom and critique it.”
Even though his pitchers have been doing their work, Brocail knows that a training period is necessary.
“Throwing sim innings and simulations and ‘pens, there’s no adrenaline,” he said. “There’s no guy at second with no outs. Those are the things we can’t simulate. Those are the things we’re going to have to do when we get to spring training.”
Brocail acknowledges how difficult it is to prepare for a season that may or may not begin in early July.
“You don’t know what the date is,” Brocail said. “It’s guesswork … Pitching coaches hate guessing. That’s why I never ask a guy: ‘Try this.’ I always give them why I want them to try it because there’s a purpose behind it. There’s a purpose behind knowing what that date is.”
Brocail and Holmes are missing the hands-on instruction.
“That’s been the most difficult part,” Brocail said. “Because you’re trusting that these guys know everything you’re saying. That’s why when we talk about it, the first thing I say, ‘Do you understand it?’
“The how is what we’re after. This is how you’re going to do it. This is how you’re going to get the outs. This is how you’re going to throw your breaking ball. This is how you’re going to get your best spin. The how is everything to us, and not being able to help with the how, and you want the guys to get their own how.
“Helping them get to their own ‘how’ is the tough part of being away and only being on video.”
In 2006, Brocail had two angioplasties and even though he’s only 53, he could be considered at risk during the pandemic. He also has a history of asthma, but he’s not concerned about returning to work.
“Outside is the best place to be,” he said.
After talking with manager Brandon Hyde, Brocail and Holmes decided to stay in Sarasota for several weeks after spring training ended because the Orioles’ young pitchers were throwing well, and because he was able to be out of doors.
“I’ve worn a mask since I’ve been home,” Brocail said. “I don’t wear it at the house, but I’ve been nowhere other than the grocery store, drug store and the corner market.”
Brocail has shaved his beard in order to allow him to comfortably wear a N95 mask for those errands.
“Every time I go in, I’m gloved up … I made some people mad at the grocery store: ‘Hey, back up. Get off me.’ When you’re 6-5, 270, what’s somebody going to say?
“I’m not worried because I’m going to take care of myself.”