Bullpen sessions will be key for Lucroy as he charts return to Brewers
Balancing a Starbucks coffee with his left hand while looking at his casted right, Jonathan Lucroy pondered the question: Which is worse, breaking your throwing hand, or your catching hand?
"I don't know," he said, looking at his cast. "I think they both suck."
He smirked a little at the assessment.
Lucroy broke his left pinky in spring training last year during a blocking drill and had surgery to implant pins into his fractured right hand on Friday, giving him an unfortunate basis for comparison.
Lucroy, who will turn 26 on June 13, was having an All-Star caliber first half before the injury, hitting .345 with a .969 OPS and 30 RBI. His bat is has definitely been missed by a scuffling Brewers lineup, but his presence behind the plate has been palpable and just as important to the club.
"Last year he got more comfortable as the season went on he started understanding the personalities along with the stuff that each pitcher has," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "And that takes a while, and it takes usually a veteran player to understand all that. This year he's better, so I think he'll continue to get better."
It's that element to his game that Lucroy can work on first once he receives doctors clearance, although he anticipates not being able to return to the everyday lineup for six weeks.
"This year I'm not going to be able to throw til a little later, but this year I'll still be able to – when I get the clearance to – go catch bullpens, to be able to stand in on bullpens, track pitches so my eyesight and timing is still there," Lucroy said. "I'll be able to swing bottom hand. I'll be able to do all the exercises I can do in the weight room that don't require any pushing or pulling."
Bill Schroeder, who caught eight seasons in the major leagues before becoming the Brewers' color man in the television broadcast booth, said having the break on his throwing hand will help Lucroy stay sharp behind the plate.
"He can keep his legs strong, catch pitches and keep his hands going a little bit obviously keeping that (broken) hand out of there," Schroeder said. "As far as picking up spin, you can work on things that will help you in hitting even when catching by finding a release point because you're finding the release point as well when you're catching. You don't follow the ball all around his head, you're not following the arm all the way around. You find where he's going to release the pitch. You pick out a spot, you look at that, you look at the release point, and you look at spin, and you can do that a little bit easier in the bullpen because there's not a hitter and it's not a game situation. If you clank one, so what?"
Primarily a backup catcher in his career, Schroeder caught many bullpen sessions and felt the experience helped hone the technical elements of catching, such as receiving the ball properly and working on footwork – both in the crouch and out of it.
"I felt it was beneficial for all those reasons," Schroeder said. "A lot of times, you'll catch a bullpen and you get up in your stance and you pretend a man is stealing and you get it and you (get up). He can do all that except for making the transfer."
Such exercises won't be helping the injured hand to heal or strengthen, but it's a way to keep Lucroy's mind and body sharp – especially his lower half.
Riding the exercise back or putting in miles around Miller Park will help keep his lungs up, but being able to get into a crouch and work what Schroeder calls the "catching muscles" is a vital element to not only Lucroy's return, but a productive one.
Catching a side session may seem like a mundane ritual once he's able to do it, but Lucroy knows how vital is will be to his complete recovery.
"It's important," he said. "When you take time off, your eyes are a muscle too and you've got to be able to exercise those. Once I'm able to, and get cleared, to be able to go back there and just track pitches and catch and receive, that's going to mean a lot and it's going to help out. And it'll just mean I'll be that one more step closer to being back on the field and able to compete."
Lucroy acknowledged his offense and his throwing might take a bit longer to recover, as the top hand is responsible for his power and he'll need to regain all of his grip strength to properly execute throws around the diamond.
Since he was comparing his last hand injury to the current one however, Lucroy was able to find a silver lining regarding his rehab: He's already done it once before.
"I don't think it's going to be tough to get back because like I said, the way I work, whenever I'm cleared, I work harder than anybody to get ready," he said. "So I'm not worried about that."
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