Pregame routines staying despite Mo's injury
Players, managers say they will go about business as usual
In the wake of Mariano Rivera's potentially season-ending injury, managers and players around the Major Leagues faced an obvious question on Friday:
Would Rivera's injury -- a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee sustained while shagging fly balls in batting practice Thursday -- change the way teams approach pregame activities?
The answer, from managers and players alike, was a resounding "No."
"I saw [someone say they should stop] on TV and it made me sick to be honest with you," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Somebody was talking about 'What was he doing?' That's what we do. That's what every pitcher does. What's he supposed to be doing, sitting and eating chili while everyone's out on the field? What the heck. Come on.
"I got one of the best in the business who happens to be a Cy Young [Award] winner. He shags all the time. Goes after them like a wild man. I'm not going to take that away from him."
Leyland was speaking, of course, about his ace Justin Verlander, who said he's not as aggressive when it comes to shagging as he used to be, but that he will continue to do it.
Possibly the most adamant about the injury not changing anything in terms of pitchers shagging fly balls was Rivera, himself. On Friday, the 42-year-old Yankees closer not only guaranteed that he would pitch again, but also that he would shag again.
"Oh, believe it," Rivera said. "I wouldn't want it any other way. I'm glad it happened while I was shagging. That's what I love to do. I love to do it, and I won't hesitate to do it again."
Though it may seem like pitchers are simply executing one of baseball's most fundamental practices of catching fly balls, shagging during batting practice extends far beyond that for some. It was not only a passion for Rivera, but also part of his cardio workout -- and he's not alone in either of those aspects.
"I love shagging, absolutely. [You get] cardio and it makes you feel a little athletic," Rays starter James Shields said before jokingly adding: "If they need an extra outfielder, I'm good to go."
Shields said that a Rivera-type injury during warmups is something that he has never even considered -- and something that he will continue to not think about. In Shields' mind, changing the way he's done things his entire career, or focusing on being more cautious, would only increase the risk of injury at this point.
As for managers, they too aren't ready to pull the plug on their pitchers' routines because of one rare mishap, albeit a serious one. Not to mention, shagging fly balls typically doesn't carry much more risk than any other activity a player may partake in before a game.
"You don't want to see people going crazy or jumping over walls and doing those things," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "The game's been going on 100 years, and every once in a while you do see something happen like that. Part of the pitchers' conditioning is shagging fly balls and doing things like that. It's unfortunate, but people can get hurt walking to the ballpark, too."
Therein lies the most baffling part of it all -- this is something that just does not happen.
"I don't know about the overall view, but the tape I watched, Mariano was doing something he's probably done 453,000 times in his career," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He went to run after a fly ball. So I don't think we're going to, as an industry, say pitchers aren't going to shag anymore."
As Sveum mentioned, the recurring response from managers seemed to be that shagging, in a controlled manner, will continue to be perfectly acceptable.
Hurdle added that he sometimes has to remind his closer, Joel Hanrahan, that attempting to rob batting practice home runs might not be the best idea. Rays manager Joe Maddon admitted he's not crazy about Kyle Farnsworth's habit of taking hard-hit ground balls in the infield -- but both said they refuse to interrupt a player's routine.
That's not to say that managers don't step in once in awhile and enforce some rules regarding how pitchers get in their cardio. Earlier this week -- prior to the Rivera injury -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told his pitchers they were no longer allowed to chase a Frisbee around on the outfield grass.
"If you watch our BP, watch [Craig] Kimbrel and [Jonny] Venters shag. That's how they get their running in," Gonzalez said. "But that Frisbee, that's out of the question. I solved that a couple days ago. It's not because it's bad. But if something happens, I don't want to answer the questions. They're having fun and running around, but I don't want [general manager] Frank [Wren] saying how come Venters blew out a hamstring chasing a Frisbee around?"
In the end, the consensus is that shagging is as much a part of a pitcher's day as stretching and throwing, and it will continue to be. As for any pitchers who might be skeptical about shagging now, Hurdle had a simple response.
"I don't see us changing anything we do," Hurdle said. "There might be some guys who knock on managers' doors, saying, 'Look we got to stop.' My comment would be, 'Well, start pitching like Mariano Rivera, and we'll shut you down.'"