Less running and more strength building are goals for left-hander, other Blue Jays starters
By Paul Hagen
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- For decades, running has been a key part of pitcher's conditioning programs. And, for decades, some have questioned the practice.
During the 1960s, Johnny Sain was the pitching coach for five of the 10 American League pennant winners. He also once famously observed, "You don't run the ball up to the plate." After Steve Carlton won one of his Cy Young Awards with the Phillies, he created a minor kerfuffle by refusing to run the following spring.
Times change. Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ (20-4, 3.18 ERA) and right-hander Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00 ERA) are coming off career years. Right-hander Marcus Stroman was Toronto's Opening Day starter. After a slow start while completing his recovery from ACL surgery, he posted a 3.68 ERA in the second half.
In addition to being really good, the three starters have something else in common. They take part in a cutting edge training regimen that involves almost no running. The results speak for themselves.
"I think we've figured out that some of the traditions in baseball are a little backwards," Happ said before Tuesday's drills. "It used to be to go out and run [foul pole to foul pole] for 20 minutes. That's not beneficial for me. It's just going to hurt my back, take some weight off me. And I'm trying to get stronger and build and be more explosive.
"If we run at all, it's mostly 50 yards or less at a time. Sprints or strides or something. That's kind of the direction we've been going, and I've been feeling good about it."
Happ had been trending this way for a few years, and coming back to the Blue Jays before this past season only reinforced his determination to find better answers.
"There are a lot of great strength and conditioning people over here who have helped me," Happ said. "I always worked really hard. I think I'm working hard and smart now."
Simply put, instead of building endurance through cardio work, these exercises put a premium on short bursts of high-intensity activities.
"Pitchers need to be explosive for about three seconds, 110 times, every five days," Happ said. "So that's kind of what our focus is, not being able to run marathons or any of that stuff. Body time under tension, we call it.
"It's just kind of the type of movement you're doing during your lift. Whether it's jumping or the dead-lift stuff, you're working on explosiveness and strength. A lot of stuff with our hips. Just kind of the way you load it and the speed with which you go through the movement."
Happ began his workouts on Halloween, less than two weeks after the Blue Jays were beaten by the Indians in the AL Championship Series. He was soon joined by Sanchez. Stroman spent much of the winter in Florida as well.
"I feel pretty comfortable speaking for the three of us that we feel good about the gains we've made this offseason," Happ said. "It's been a good thing."
Paul Hagen is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.