Feb 25, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
VIERA, Fla. — Workouts can get a bit mundane at this juncture of spring training, with players long since having reported to camp but several days still remaining until the Grapefruit League gets underway. Fortunately, Matt Williams scheduled a couple of new and interesting drills for Monday’s workout, keeping everyone from being bored to death.
The first was a full-squad pop-up drill, with all nine positions filled on the field and various pop-ups shot up into the Viera sky via a pitching machine. This is when Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond got to perfect their loudest “I got it!”s, much to the delight of the hundred or so fans in attendance.
There were, thankfully, no collisions between players (or between players and walls, for that matter) but there were a couple of close calls. Werth and Anthony Rendon nearly made contact on a pop-up to shallow right field. Rendon and Ian Desmond later converged on a ball behind second base. And Nate McLouth made a nice, running catch just before going full-speed into the chain-link fence in foul territory down the right-field line.
Next was a highly entertaining drill titled “Pitchers Hitting Game.” That’s exactly what it was. The staff was divided into four teams, with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Chris Young serving as captains. Those captains then drafted teams of eight pitchers, who then competed against another team in a 9-inning “game” that rewarded the club that exhibited the best batting skills.
Rehab coordinator Mark Grater pitched one of the games inside Space Coast Stadium, which pitted Team Fister against Team Young. The basic rules…
— Each team took turns batting in their respective “innings,” with Grater judging whether the balls they put into play were clean hits or outs. Once three outs were made, the game moved into the next half-inning.
— If a man reached base with less than two outs, the pitcher/batter was required either to bunt or hit a grounder to the right side of the infield and advance the runner. If done correctly, the runner advanced a base but the team wasn’t charged with an out.
— The captain of the team not currently batting could set up his defense for each situation, bringing in the corners, or the entire infield, or playing at double-play depth.
— Whoever scored the most runs after nine innings won.
Oh, one more very important rule: Non-captains were not allowed to argue Grater’s rulings. Anyone would did was ordered to run a lap around the bases.
Which proved difficult for Gio Gonzalez to avoid. The game’s very first batter, lefty Danny Rosenbaum, tapped a grounder to the hole on the left-side of the infield. Grater called it an out, which prompted Gonzalez to shout back: “What?!” Which prompted Grater to declare: “That’s a lap, Gio!”
Gonzalez wound up taking four penalty laps around the bases before the game was over.
There were plenty of well-executed bunts and move-’em-up grounders, but the two biggest highlights were longballs. The first was hit by Taylor Jordan, who gave Team Fister a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the eighth. But Team Young rallied in the top of the ninth, loading the bases with one out after Fister elected to intentionally walk Sammy Solis and bring Christian Garcia to the plate.
Big mistake. Garcia, a .400-hitting catcher in high school, launched a grand slam to left-center, flipping his bat after contact and giving Team Young an 8-6 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. (Grater ruled his run didn’t count because he wasn’t supposed to be swinging for the fences.)
In the end, the pitchers managed to get some important work in while also having a good time.
“Oh, yeah. It puts a little pressure on yourself,” Garcia said. “You want to do good for your team. So it’s good to be able to have fun while you’re doing it. Because at the end of the day, this is a game. It should be fun.”
“It breaks up some of the monotony, some of the everyday stuff,” Fister said. “There’s things that we have to focus on every day that are very important, and hitting and bunting and moving runners is one of them. For Matt to kind of schedule things like that, that we’re able to have a little fun with it, it’s gonna stick in our brains a little better.”
This may not be the end of the “Pitchers Hitting Game.” Word is that both winning clubs (Team Young and Team Zimmermann) were trying to convince Williams to let them square off in a championship match sometime soon.
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