MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Washington Nationals

Spring Training is not a time for measuring results. For pitchers especially, Spring Training is a living laboratory for them to better shape their body and mind for the upcoming season grind.

For some hurlers, this means slowly building arm strength up to regular season levels. Pass a pitch count milestone each time out en route to regular season readiness. For others, spring activities are meant for tinkering. For searching for feel and something new. A time for playing around and getting a new wrinkle that will make them better pitchers during the regular season.

It can be a little tough for fans to take, paying nearly full price for tickets only to see the local star get blown out of the water for three innings. It seems to run contrary to the ideal of “competitive squad” edict that threw the Marlins and Red Sox ownership into a war of words last week. “Sure, we’ll bring our biggest names. But guess what? Our workhorse isn’t pitching to win, he’s working on a new spike curve. Enjoy your day in the sun!”

Baseball is a results-driven business so even when the stakes are low the results are expected. Call it insulation from criticism or call it what you will, pitchers “working on stuff” during the Spring Training is a fact of life.

Take CC Sabathia, for example. Early reports of the big Yankees ace working in the upper eighties ripped through twitter as fantasy gurus yanked him down their draft boards and gleeful Sox fans danced on his grave. The facts are much more boring than that, of course. Sabathia didn’t lose his fastball overnight, we was working on his cut fastball, a pitcher that generally travels much more slowly than his four or two seamer. From the New York Post:

“I have been throwing the ball well. Even warming up today I felt good. I have to take it and keep working.’

With the help of Andy Pettitte, Sabathia incorporated the cut fastball last week in a simulated game. Tuesday was the first time he threw it in a real game.

“I thought it was pretty good. None of them got put in play. That’s a plus,’’ said Sabathia, who guessed he threw eight or nine cutters. “They yanked it foul or just took it.’’

So the cut fastball is a work in progress, albeit a project that made its way into game action last year.

Toss aside the results in favor of the process. What if the process is fundamentally flawed? What if you’re Edwin Jackson and you decide, out of the blue and unbeknownst to your coaches, that throwing nothing but fastballs for an entire start is in your best interests? You better expect to hear about it from the manager.

“It’s nothing that I’d been planning on during the week. It was one of those things where we came out and I said, I’m going to throw all fastballs today and we’ll see how it turns out,” he said.

This was, of course, news to his boss, Rick Renteria. Fastball command is something Jackson and Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio worked on extensively, though seeing Jackson take it to this extreme is…interesting.

Renteria told the Chicago Sun-Times that he and Jackson would have a “conversation” about his approach to spring work. The results were mixed (at best) but again: Spring Training! Nobody cares about results. Right, Sergio Romo?

The Giants closer is famous for his slider, the boomarang offering that freezes right-handed batters and leaves lefties scratching their heads. But Romo experienced his ups and down in 2013 so he’s determined to add another wrinkle to give batters something to think about. And how does he approach this? By completely junking his slider for entire spring outings.

“It’s not like I haven’t been practicing it or anything,” Romo said Sunday. “I don’t need to throw it in a game for me to sit there and know that I’ve got it.”

Exactly. You don’t bring sand to the beach. You leave that devastating offering in your back pocket and fiddle around with a change up, even if it means giving up 11 hits and 12 runs in three innings this spring. Three innings, total. That includes failing to get an out in his most recent appearances.

Again, it’s only Cactus League. When the real games begin on March 31st, Romo will be back and flinging his slider just like normal. And as it relates to the paying customers, there should not and cannot be an pressure on teams or players to compete in spring games. It is all in service of the greater good, in this case the six month long regular season.

Cactus League and Grapefruit League games are great winter getaway destination but buyer beware. Pitchers tinker, batters take full weeks off with neck tweaks that might hold them out of a single real game, teams traveling across the vast plains of central Florida by bus aren’t likely to bring their Opening Day roster. It’s the nature of the beast. Unless you’re Jordan Zimmermann and you come out firing on all cylinders, going twelve up and twelve down and matter-of-factly stating you weren’t “holding anything back.”

Wins and losses feel good but if CC Sabathia turns into Mariano Rivera incarnate, nobody will remember the time he got shelled against the…Nationals (?) in the middle of March. Like most things in Spring Training, don’t take it too seriously and you’re entire mental health outlook can only improve.