By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) -- While in quarantine for two weeks late last month, Chad Bell made sure he would spend some quality time preparing himself for the upcoming Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season.
Now that he is back on the field, the 31-year-old left-hander for the Hanwha Eagles wants to put up more quality starts in 2020.
The American pitcher was ordered into 14-day self-quarantine, following his return to South Korea from his native country. After the Eagles broke camp, he went home to be with his family as the coronavirus was wreaking havoc on South Korea. And as the situation here improved but took a turn for the worse in the United States, Bell was brought back ahead of schedule.
And because all international arrivals had to be quarantined for two weeks here, Bell could not rejoin the Eagles right away.
Suddenly, he had all the time in the world with nowhere to go. Less disciplined people might have just binge-watched Netflix shows or played video games -- Bell only did a little bit of those -- but the 31-year-old pitcher used his time wisely and efficiently with a series of extra exercises.
That should set him up for a strong second season in the KBO, despite the long layoff and disruption to his spring preparation.
In a phone interview with Yonhap News Agency last week, Bell said he felt "a lot better than I thought I was going to," once he returned to the field.
Confident in his ability to ramp back up in time, Bell has set out specific goals for 2020.
"One thing I'd like to see this year is, I'd like to have some more quality starts on the board," Bell said, referring to the stat for a starting pitcher who completes at least six innings and allows no more than three earned runs. Last year, 15 of Bell's 29 outings were quality starts.
"I'd like to see that number go up a little more, because that means I am getting at least six innings and giving our guys a chance to win," Bell said. "To be a top-end starter in any league, you've got to go out there as many times as possible and get deep into games and give your guys a chance to win. That's why I think quality starts is such a good stat."
Bell said he set up a steady routine during his quarantine. He could only talk to his family in the U.S. during morning and evening hours in South Korea because of the time difference. There were days when he cooked lunch and also prepared dinner that was sent to the fridge for later, in which case he had about five or six hours in the middle of the day when he could get some key exercises done.
"I did more core, flexibility and mobility exercises," said Bell, who also threw plywood balls in different weights into extra mattresses to keep his arm fresh. "It was kind of nice. I wasn't really in any rush to do anything because I had all the time in the world."
He also kept himself busy in the kitchen, cooking up some eggs, bacon and hash browns for breakfast and feeding himself mostly chicken breast the rest of the time.
One thing even the efficient Bell could not do at home was cardio work. He admitted it felt "really weird" being out in the field and running over his first two days back with the Eagles. But he knows he has plenty of time to get his conditioning back, since the regular season, postponed from the March 28 start because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will not begin until the first week of May, at the earliest. Bell will have opportunities to pitch in scrimmages and preseason, which may begin next Tuesday.
In his first KBO season last year, Bell went 11-10 with a 3.50 ERA. And the way he was mowing down hitters late in the season, those numbers would certainly have been better if the season ran longer.
In his final eight starts between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, Bell was 6-1 with a 2.01 ERA. More impressively, he did not give up any run in five of those six wins.
He credited the impressive final stretch to some midseason adjustments. For one, he stopped throwing his slider -- "My slider, honestly, really wasn't very good," Bell said with a chuckle -- and he managed to knock a little more velocity off his changeup.
"I've always thrown my changeup hard, about 6 to 7 miles per hour off my fastball. I've always wanted to slow it down more," Bell said. "Our pitching coach gave me some ideas to try and it was something that I had to experiment with on a daily basis. I was able to slow it down to 10 miles off my fastball that last couple of months of the season. It made a huge difference for me."
Another area of adjustment for Bell was to finish off pesky hitters. He recalled facing players who were not power hitters and also were not necessarily contact hitters but who somehow managed to foul off eight or nine pitches in an at-bat and run Bell's pitch count up.
The pitcher leaned on his catcher, Choi Jae-hoon, for help, and said he always appreciates the fact that Choi does not mince words when it comes to reviewing Bell's performance after games.
"My favorite thing about him is he is honest," Bell said. "That was huge for me in helping me getting transitioned into the style of play here."
As much as Bell is itching to return to the mound for games that count, he said it would be "a little disappointing" to do so in empty ballparks. Even if the regular season starts in early May as the league hopes it will, some early games will still be played behind closed doors for public health reasons.
"Everybody just wants to get on the field and play in the competitive environment," he said. "And another thing I am looking forward to is getting the fans back in the seats and hearing them throughout the game. It's something that gives you the rush when you're on the field. As long as we get to start and everything starts to get better, I look forward to everybody coming out and supporting the games."