Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy knew he had his work cut out for him when it came to guiding and motivating his pitching staff remotely over the course of baseball’s shutdown. As it turns out, he had a little help in that department in the form of an obstacle that ended up being much bigger than he could have imagined.
As Hottovy admitted right at the start of his interview with 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh Wednesday morning, he spent a month battling COVID-19. Even quarantined in the guest room of his Chicago home, he continued to hold his regular conference calls with players and staff.
“I had the virus,” Hottovy said. “I had my own battle with this virus and I want to be able to talk about this and talk about baseball and share my experience because I shared my journey with the pitchers and with the guys on the team. It is important to understand that…I’ve had no underlying issues, I’ve had nothing that would flag me as somebody that could get hit pretty hard with this virus, but I did.”
Unlike so many others believed to be in a lower-risk category, Hottovy didn’t just have a mild cough and loss of taste. His bout lasted for weeks and gave him a fresh perspective on the shortened season to come.
“I got crushed and did have to go to the hospital for a little bit of time to get checked up and do all the breathing treatments,” he explained. “And so people understand, it took me 30 days to test negative. Thirty days. And going into a baseball season and understanding in a 60-game season what 30 days means…if it hadn’t happened to me now and I had the same effect and the same reaction to the virus, I probably would have missed a majority of the season.”
Hottovy went on to describe the onset of his symptoms, which began with a persistent fever that he says remained at or above 100 degrees for six days. The worst part, though came during the second week with the onset of “COVID pneumonia.” He experienced shortness of breath, troubled breathing, and continued fever, eventually heading to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for treatment.
While admitting readily that his case is not common for a 38-year-old in otherwise perfect health, Hottovy hopes others will see that these symptoms and even worse are not out of the realm of possibility for athletes.
“It was good to be, I guess an example,” he said. “I didn’t wanna be an example, but to be an example for our guys because they were following it with me. We were doing Zoom calls once a week, I was having communications with guys and they saw the progression of it.”
That progression included losing 18 pounds over the last 45 days, a time that has now stretched more than two weeks past his all-clear, primarily due to the deterioration of his cardiovascular level. But Hottovy said the psychological impact was even worse as he battled with fever and sleeplessness, not to mention guilt over possibly endangering his family.
Knowing the toll it took on him and his family, Hottovy believes he can be an asset to Cubs players and staff members in the future. There will be positive tests, of that we can be sure, so he believes he’ll be able to use his journey to help them along theirs.
The same is obviously true for his pitchers as they prepare for a season that has been modified just slightly from original plans. An extended layoff coupled with an abbreviated camp could end up being disastrous for some players, but Hottovy believes his staff will be able to hit the ground running when the Cubs have their first official workouts this Friday.
“I’m really proud of the work that our guys put in,” the pitching coach explained. “I feel like we’re as equipped as anyone to have the option to make a run at this. The work that guys have put in, the live BPs, the volume of pitch counts where guys are right now?
“If you had asked me two months ago, I wouldn’t have thought — I don’t wanna say timed it this well — but been in a position to have guys come in right away, getting right into live BP sim games like we’re gonna try to do almost immediately.”
He echoed David Ross’s thoughts on sticking with a five-man rotation, saying that he felt the starters would all be able to go at least five innings right out of the chute, though Hottovy did say there might be other ways to provide support. Expanded rosters will help at the outset, so the Cubs will probably look to have as many multi-inning relievers as possible.
“I don’t foresee us doing anything different right now other than our five-man rotation,” Hottovy said. “We’re definitely gonna have some length behind those guys and can even do some piggyback starting type stuff if we want to give our guys the ability to recover a little bit better if we can.”
Of course, there’s really no way to plan for something no one has seen before, especially when the season is taking place during a global pandemic. There’s no such thing as a foolproof plan, so maybe the best thing is to realize that you don’t know what you don’t know and approach the next several weeks with an open mind.
“No matter what we think is gonna happen this year, at the end of it we’re not gonna be close. We’re gonna make the best decisions during this process that we can, but we really have to be flexible and mobile through this whole thing.