Walton employing new pitching philosophy
Jays' new pitching coach trying to save 'bullets' for games
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- After Blue Jays pitchers wrapped up their portion of the first full-squad workout of Spring Training on Friday, new pitching coach Bruce Walton stopped to get a drink from the bright orange cooler at the back of the club's bullpen.
"There are a lot of guys here," Walton said. "A lot of guys. It's a big test for me."
In his first tour as a Major League pitching coach, Walton has been tasked with orchestrating a complicated spring competition for Toronto's rotation and bullpen. There are more than three dozen pitchers in camp, and among that group, roughly two dozen have a legitimate shot at finding their way onto the team's Opening Day roster.
Beyond merely determining which arms will break camp with the Blue Jays, though, Walton is also trying to find a way to get as many innings as he can out of a very young and inexperienced cast. To hopefully achieve that goal, Walton -- hired in October to replace Brad Arnsberg, who now holds the same role with the Astros -- has devised what he is calling his "arm management program."
"Obviously, I can't control how many pitches it takes for them to get three outs," Walton explained. "I can't control how many times they get up in the bullpen and stuff like that. But on our throwing days, our side days, our long-toss days, we're just going to manage them with common sense and try to save bullets in those areas where, hopefully, you keep them fresher day-to-day and game-to-game."
Walton believes that altering the pitchers' routines can benefit them throughout the course of a full season, increasing the probability that they will be able to handle larger workloads. Some studies have suggested that pitchers should only increase their innings by 20 percent each year, but Walton feels he can upgrade that to 25-30 percent by reducing the amount of throwing between appearances.
This means limiting the amount of time pitchers play catch, for example.
"They love to play catch. They're pitchers. That's what they do," Walton said. "When they start playing catch, it's fun for them, but I think sometimes we go overboard a little bit. I think we do waste some bullets, and I just want to control it the best I can."
For bullpen sessions between starts, Walton said he plans on having a "soft rule" of only having the pitcher work off the mound for eight minutes. He believes there is only so much a pitcher can work on in the bullpen, and, especially with a younger pitching staff, Walton feels the time for learning is during games.
This spring, Walton has altered the way pitchers train during workouts. One change is that pitchers are only scheduled to work through a light round of catch the day following their bullpen sessions on the mound. Walton wants the pitchers to work harder on their mound days and to take things easier when they are not scheduled to pitch.
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In the past, pitchers also would routinely play catch first, then work through various practice stations before finally shifting to mound sessions. That often created downtime between playing catch and working off the hill. Now Walton has the pitchers do a long-toss workout right before they are scheduled to pitch off a mound.
"Is that saving bullets?" Walton said. "No, but it's using your bullets at the right time before you come to the mound to get your work in."
Walton was asked if the changes he is making were in response to the pile of arm injuries Toronto pitchers have experienced in recent seasons. He said the only thing behind his still-evolving program is the youth that the Blue Jays are working with this season.
"I don't think it's in response to anything other than the inexperience and the younger kids that I will have," Walton said.
Walton also acknowledged that some pitchers often push themselves too hard during Spring Training in an effort to impress the organization, especially in a camp as competitive as this one. Walton said he has tried to emphasize that not making the Opening Day roster is not the end of the world. Many pitchers have specific development plans in place and their shot at the big leagues will come at the right time.
"Hopefully I get them to understand that making the team, not making the team, it's not that big of a deal," Walton said. "Everybody is going to have an opportunity, I think, to come up over the course of the year. Hopefully by my patience and the way I talk and the way I teach, it slows guys down a little bit."
In some ways, this spring is as much a learning process for Walton as it is for the young pitchers. And he admits that his ideas and plans are all works in progress.
"I don't know where I'm going exactly," he said with a laugh. "But I know that I've started at the right spot."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.