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August 10, 2012 at 6:36 PM

Eric Wedge says Mariners “not hands-off” when it comes to off-season conditioning of pitchers

That Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade is still a sore spot in the New York area. Earlier today, an item in the Trenton (NJ) Times raised questions about the off-season conditioning of Pineda and minor league pitcher Jose Campos, both dealt to the Yankees in the swap.
Pineda is out for the season after tearing his labrum in spring training. Campos lasted five games in low-level Class A ball before being shut down with what has been called a “bone bruise” by the Yankees.
The piece out of Trenton — home to New York’s Class AA affiliate — was written by beat writer Josh Norris and titled “Questions surround conditioning of Pineda and Campos.” It included interviews with former M’s prospects Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez, now with the Phillies’ organization and with their AAA affiliate, also based in Trenton. Norris wrote the folowing:
The Yankees have regimented plans in place for each pitcher over the offseason, complete with scheduled down time, workouts and throwing sessions. Each plan is administered and monitored by the club. Seattle, on the other hand, gives its arms more freedom. For its younger pitchers, especially ones from outside the U.S., the only requirement is to keep running. The goal of that plan, Ramirez said, is to keep pitchers’ arms fresh for when they’re asked to report to the complex in the middle of January. “I didn’t do (anything). They just told me ‘Go home, keep running and then, one month before you get to the U.S.A., start throwing,” Ramirez said. “I was young. I was so young, that’s why they didn’t let me throw.”

The theme of the piece seems to point to the Mariners taking a hands-off approach. In fact, the tone taken by Norris in his writing was rather neutral, other than this one little part that spells out the crux of the issue:
Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see that the Yankees weren’t pleased with the conditioning and strength regimens of both players they acquired.
There was also this little bit towards the end, after an interview in which Aumont described his Mariners off-season workout as being more liberal and free than in Philly, with few checkups from team staffers.
While both allow that the players are adults and are mature enough to handle themselves without constant babysitting, New York, it seems, does do a bit of checking up every now and then.
I asked Mariners manager Eric Wedge about the stated differences between the two teams and his experience in Seattle so far. Wedge had a big hand in overseeing the off-season conditioning of many of Seattle’s younger players this year, especially after so many faltered down the stretch last season.
“We’re not hands off, I don’t know where that comes from,” Wedge said. “We have programs for each individual. We don’t just do a balloon program, if you will, for all relief pitchers or all starting pitchers. Evertything’s individualized. Whether it be with our trainers, our strength coaches or our coaches in that particular area.
“So, when they leave, they have their marching orders. We make phone calls from time to time and make sure they’re doing what they’re doing.”

After that, I asked Wedge whether he personally phones players to check up on their progress and see where they’re at.
“From our standpoint, depending on who the player is level-wise, it depends who’s going to call him,” Wedge said. “If it’s a special situation or more of a high maintenance situation, then you’ve got to put your eyes on him, too. What your level of trust is with the player, what they’ve earned in that regard, too, you have to take into consideration.
“So, we don’t assume anything.”
In Pineda’s case, the thing worth remembering is that he was traded to New York in January. At that point, it became the responsibility of the Yankees to see where he was at physically.
Up to that point? It was also the responsibility of the Yankees to make sure Pineda was in proper shape before trading for him. This isn’t just me acting like a team shill (you all should know better by now). The notion of caveat emptor (buyer beware) prevails in all baseball trades and was reinforced by another situation I reported on 11 years ago when covering the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Jays dealt David Wells to the Chicago White Sox prior to the 2001 season in exchange for an already injured Mike Sirotka — who wound up never throwing another pitch. That trade was seen as the final straw that broke the back of then-Jays GM Gord Ash, who was fired with a few weeks left in the 2001 season.
But the principle remains: if you trade for a guy, it’s up to you to make sure he’s in shape and healthy. Not the trading team. It’s clear as day.
That’s one thing. As an aside, I’d add that the gist of what the Trenton item stated is indeed true. The Mariners do place a lot of emphasis on younger pitchers not beginning their throwing until the month before spring training and then working their arms into serious game shape through that.
There is a difference between doing arm exercises when a pitcher is not throwing and then doing them once a throwing routine has begun. That’s how the Mariners tend to look at things, as you can see by the interviews done in the Norris column.
Did Pineda do enough to stay in shape this winter? Probably not if he showed up to camp 20 pounds overweight. There’s no excuse for that.
Some of you may remember the trip I took down to Venezuela in the 2006 off-season when I visited Felix Hernandez at his home. Hernandez at the time told me of enjoying the odd beer every now and then and looked a little pudgy in some of our October photos that I snapped.
But later on that winter, he began his training regimen — perscribed before my visit and the publishing of the photos — and shaved off a good 25 pounds prior to the 2007 campaign. That included a hands-on assessment from trainer Rick Griffin over the winter.
In the case of Franklin Gutierrez after the 2010 season, the team did not monitor his health firsthand all winter long. And when he showed up at 2011 spring training looking gaunt and feeling sick, the team paid a price for it with Gutierrez’s delayed start to the season. This past winter, with Gutierrez’s history well-known, the team kept much closer tabs on him physically and he wound up arriving in camp in excellent shape.
Bottom line? I don’t know of any team in baseball that monitors every player in their system on a firsthand, personal basis. Especially when they live in foreign countries. Maybe the Yankees are the exception, but I doubt it. In the case of Pineda, there were no prior warning signs that he needed to be monitored as regularly as, say, a Gutierrez.
Perhaps, because of his second half fade last year, a case can be made that the M’s could have been a bit more pro-active. But then again, if it was arm fatigue they were concerned with, that would be dealt with once his throwing sessions began. And keeping him away from throwing would, in theory, help combat arm fatigue.
Anyhow, this is all speculative at best. The one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty: the Yankees are 100 percent on-the-hook for any player they trade for.
The lineups:
Mariners (51-62)
13 Dustin Ackley (L) 2B
55 Michael Saunders (L) CF
63 Jesus Montero DH
27 John Jaso C
15 Kyle Seager (L) 3B
20 Mike Carp (L) 1B
33 Casper Wells LF
10 Eric Thames (L) RF
26 Brendan Ryan SS
34 Felix Hernandez RHP
Angels (59-53)
27 Mike Trout CF
49 Torii Hunter RF
5 Albert Pujols 1B
44 Mark Trumbo LF
8 Kendrys Morales (S) DH
6 Alberto Callaspo (S) 3B
47 Howie Kendrick 2B
2 Erick Aybar (S) SS
17 Chris Iannetta C
54 Ervin Santana RHP

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero


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