By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – As the Cardinals officially welcomed 33 pitchers and nine catchers to the start of spring training on Wednesday, they also said hello to a new member of the coaching staff.
Dusty Blake, a longtime friend of manager Mike Shildt and the former pitching coach at Duke, was hired to serve as the team’s “pitching strategist.”
Blake, 39, is taking the place of Joey Prebynski, who left the organization after two years to take a job with the Angels.
“Dusty’s got a real expertise in a lot of different things from a pitching perspective,” Shildt said. “He’s been a head coach previously at a small college (Pfeiffer) so he’s got a baseball background. He understands how the big picture looks from a baseball perspective.
“He’s also got a real expertise, and I don’t use that word lightly, in a lot of the pitching mechanics and some of the measurables and technology available through Rapsodo and Trackman and Edgertronics. He’s got a real good clarity on how that all works and what that means and how to interpret it. There’s a lot of information that quite candidly a lot of people misinterpret that data in our sport to some degree.”
Blake had been at Duke for the last three years, the latest stop on a long college coaching career, and has known Shildt for close to 10 years.
“He’s been involved with a program that I co-chair, Baseball for Life, which is a non-profit in the Charlotte area which helps mentor middle school young men,” Shildt said. “I’ve also done what I could to give him some guidance and advise over the course of his career. It just made a lot of sense to bring Dusty on board and he’s been a great fit.”
John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, is eager to see how Blake’s involvement can benefit the Cardinals pitchers.
“One of the things we wanted to do was look to see how we could modernize our approach to how we thought about pitching,” Mozeliak said. “We were looking for someone that had an understanding of advanced pitching metrics, newer technologies. Dusty was someone who was highly regarded at the college level.
“I’ve had some dialogue with him over the past couple of weeks on some things and I definitely feel like he will be an asset to this organization.”
Other news and notes from day one at the Cardinals camp:
*Mozeliak said the challenge for the Cardinals, like every team, this spring will be to ensure the health and safety of players and staff while also preparing for the regular season.
“Ultimately there’s two big tests we have to pass,” Mozeliak said. “One is can we avoid having an outbreak in our camp and two we have to prepare for a season and make sure we have a roster that we’re excited about and that we believe in and can be competitive. We’re going to be running parallel paths.”
The revised and shortened spring schedule, part of baseball’s health and safety protocols, includes six days with no games between Feb. 28 and March 29 but Shildt said only two of those have been designated as actual days off for the team, on March 6 and 21.
Because of those protocols, the Cardinals have set up several large white tents between the clubhouse and the parking lot that will be used in a variety of ways as the team tries to limit the number of players in the clubhouse.
“Every meal is eaten outside, we have a designated meeting space for our staff meetings, our player meetings, and then we also have a designated area for some of the COVID stuff and testing that takes place,” Shildt said. “We have areas for the guys to relax a little bit and to work out as well.
“We’re pretty much an outdoor operation other than a little bit of work done inside and changing clothes and shower. A lot of time, energy and effort will be spent outdoors.”
The team also will spread out pitchers as they begin throwing their first side sessions of the spring, utilizing only three of the six pitching mounds closest to the clubhouse.
“The look of this camp is much different,” Mozeliak said.
Mozeliak does believe, however, that there are similarities to springs of the past, despite all of the changes and restrictions that had to be implemented.
“The anticipation is still very real,” he said. “It’s still exciting for everybody that’s down here. But I think you all realize it’s different. We’re all having to adapt and make those adjustments as best we can. But as I walked the fields this morning there is still that excitement.”
Some of the changes will affect the lives of players and staff even away from the Cardinals facility.
“Right now Major League protocol is that you are not allowed to eat at a restaurant either inside or out until at least March 1,” Mozeliak said. “We’ve really impressed upon our players that they can get carryout, have something delivered but please remember that you can’t go to a bar, restaurant or a large gathering. Hopefully our players understand that. Those are the rules moving forward.
“We’re all drinking from a fire hose to understand all of the rules … But the mood of the camp is everybody is relieved to be down here and get going but we also know there are going to be some challenges.”
*Jordan Hicks, who opted out of last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery and because he was a higher risk candidate to contract COVID as a Type I diabetic, is in camp. “We will ease him into camp and see how he looks,” Shildt said.
*Among the position players already in town and going through the intact process are Nolan Arenado and Paul DeJong. The team’s first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 22.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains for complete Cardinals coverage during spring training
Photo of Dusty Blake courtesy of Duke baseball