LOS ANGELES — When baseball is being played, spit happens.
“It’s almost second nature. Spitting for a baseball player is like blinking,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “It’s gonna be a tough habit to break. … It’s not even just spitting on the ground. A lot of us have routines and habits.”
Turner used as an example former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz’s trademark ritual at the plate – spitting into his batting gloves, slapping them together and stepping in. That routine could now get Ortiz disciplined (though the specifics on that are unclear). Spitting is among the prohibited behaviors in 2020 as MLB tries to play games as safely as possible during a pandemic.
“I think they’re easy to accept, right. I think we understand that the coronavirus is a real thing,” Dodgers right-hander Ross Stripling said. “We have to take precautions and if spitting is part of it, that should be an easy one to accept I threw a live BP next to Clayton (Kershaw) last week and he basically got on the rubber and before his first pitch, he spit and instantly he was like, ‘Oh, we can’t do that anymore.’ So it’s in our heads.
“It’ll be a tough habit to break especially when you’re in the heat of the moment. I’m staring down the Diamondbacks lineup and that’s what I’m focusing on. Spitting might just be part of what I do, almost like part of my pre-pitch routine, almost like a muscle memory. … It will take some getting used to, but I think it’s in our heads. When Clayton did that the other day, that shows how front and center it is in our minds.”
During intrasquad games, muscle memory has kicked in for catchers and first basemen whose first instinct after recording an out is to throw the ball around the infield. That is also frowned upon now as are high-fives.
“I can’t even explain it, it’s just so weird,” said Edwin Rios, who played first and third base in limited time last season during his time being called up to the big leagues. “I mean sometimes we’ll throw it around and it’s like, ‘Oh crap, you can’t just throw the ball off to the side. Go for a high-five and then it’s like, you forget and the guy you’re going to high-five doesn’t.
“It’s definitely weird. It’s going to be a little adjustment period, but, I mean, we’re we’re getting used to it. It’s just gonna be a learning curve and go from there.”
Players now carry around their own individual cooler for water or energy drinks. Pitchers each have their own resin bag and bucket of baseballs for throwing in the bullpen. Lockers have been socially distanced in the clubhouse – all in the name of trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in an environment not ideally suited to it.
“It’s an adjustment, for sure,” Kershaw said of the changes. “But I think it’s something that we understand the responsibility of. The guys that are here, we want to get this going and we want to do this. So we’re going to do what we can, take that responsibility.”
Relievers Pedro Baez and Scott Alexander reported to camp and joined Monday’s workout, according to manager Dave Roberts, and outfielder A.J. Pollock was in camp Tuesday. That leaves catching prospect Keibert Ruiz as the only member of the 40-man roster not in camp.
Walker Buehler is the only one of the Dodgers’ starting pitchers – or candidates for the rotation – who has yet to pitch in one of the intrasquad games. Kershaw, Stripling and Alex Wood have each gone multiple innings. Julio Urias is scheduled to go three or four innings Wednesday and Dustin May has also thrown in the intrasquad games.
Roberts said Buehler threw to hitters in a live batting practice setting Sunday and will do that or a simulated game once more before pitching in an intrasquad or exhibition game.
“Clayton, Ross, certain other guys – Woody – threw throughout quarantine,” Roberts said. “I think with Walker he took some time off with the uncertainty. Obviously that was his decision and Mark (Prior, Dodgers pitching coach) was in tune with it.
“The build up period for Walker is just going to take a little bit longer.”
Roberts still expects Buehler to be in the starting rotation when the season starts next week but “a longer guy” will be paired with him until Buehler can go deeper into games.
Major-league umpires began working the Dodgers’ intrasquad games Tuesday night and will be with the team for the rest of the preseason schedule. Bench coach Bob Geren had served as umpire during the first week of intrasquad action.