TAMPA, Fla. — A group of Yankees pitchers started their run in centerfield Sunday afternoon and steadily climbed the low-grade hill that was built in leftfield on one of the practice fields, literally taking the team’s spring training conditioning to another level.
Joe Girardi has dubbed it “Mount Krause,” a nod to Matt Krause, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, who lobbied for the Yankees to build the carefully constructed incline out of clay, dirt and grass in the offseason.
“It’s something that Matt Krause really believes in, and I support it,” Girardi said after the workout. “To me, you could argue he was the greatest running back of all time, and that’s how he trained: Walter Payton trained on a hill.”
The hill doesn’t rise more than 10 feet above the outfield, and Girardi said he’s confident that it presents no significant risk of injury. “It’s not like we’re skiing down it,” he joked, suggesting the team bring in artificial snow for sledding.
Krause takes the hill seriously, explaining its 9-degree grade and the research that goes into the landscaping of a team’s preseason conditioning. While he was getting his master’s degree at Central Florida, the university’s football team ran on a natural hill, and he saw it help a cornerback run the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds at the NFL Combine.
Not everyone has fully embraced the new uphill work, but Krause said he expects the players to take on the challenge, trusting in its benefits.
“There are going to be positive things and negative things about it,” he said. “For the most part, the guys know when things are good for them that they’re going to do it. Everybody will run on it. All aspects of the conditioning program — it’s just something that helps.”
Everybody means the team’s fastest players, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, as well as 305-pound, 35-year-old pitcher CC Sabathia.
“It wasn’t that bad,” reliever Dellin Betances said Friday. “I came from the [Dominican Republic], and we run up hills slightly higher than that. So for me it wasn’t that bad. But it’s pretty cool. Something different to do. I think the guys enjoyed it.”
Pitchers, especially in the American League, aren’t called upon to run as much, but Betances said the hill work improves lower-body strength, a key for generating the power needed for pitching at a higher velocity.
“We got a good workout on it the other day,” catcher Brian McCann said. “Awesome for your legs and lower back without putting weights on, doing the squats. You’re getting a great workout, and it’s good for agility.”