The list of Toronto Blue Jays players who have delivered for managers John Gibbons during one of the worst Aprils in franchise history is short.
So it was telling that it would fall on the shoulders of 38-year-old Mark DeRosa to call a players-only meeting before last Sunday’s loss at Yankee Stadium. Not Jose Bautista or one of the other returning players; but a 16-year major-league veteran who is with his eighth team and who realized, as he said Tuesday, “one of the reasons I was brought in here was to be a sounding board and give my opinion.”
“I was actually hoping more would be said,” DeRosa said after batting practice Tuesday. “It wasn’t, and that’s fine. Some guys like to speak in front of groups, and some don’t.
“I just wanted to get it together, to get everybody relaxed and get back the swagger we had at spring training,” he said. “That’s kind of where I was going with it. I felt that when I showed up in spring training, there was such a buzz about this team and guys kind of fed off it. Even though we never had our true team out in the field [due to the World Baseball Classic], we all kind of had a pep in our step. We need to get feeling the back.”
The Blue Jays have had the type of start that demands a scapegoat, a start that inevitably results in fingers being pointed in the direction of the manager – especially one such as Gibbons, whose selection this off-season was greeted with skepticism in several quarters. And it won’t matter to Gibbons’s critics both DeRosa and, for that matter, Bautista dismissed the notion as being just a shade to the left of outrageous.
“That part is ridiculous,” Bautista said, screwing his face up. “We’re the ones playing. There’s not much he can control from the bench other than matchups and the bullpen, and he’s done a terrific job with that.”
The truth is very few Blue Jays players are performing at their career averages, and that’s tough for any manager. Top to bottom, almost, this team hasn’t hit and has taken turns not catching the ball. Hence, a number of close losses.
DeRosa knows his way around a clubhouse. He waited a month, the utility player said, and essentially became tired of Gibbons and the coaching staff doing all the work.
“I felt like the situation needed to be addressed,” DeRosa said. “You can’t help but kind of see a vibe of the whole dugout and clubhouse waiting for something bad to happen, and we have too good a rotation and too good of a lineup for that to be the norm.”
The Blue Jays are 6-11 since shortstop Jose Reyes suffered a severely sprained ankle that could keep him out until the all-star break – and DeRosa agreed readily with the suggestion that much of the spring-training buzz was taken off the field in Kansas City on the same stretcher as Reyes.
“You have to move on,” DeRosa said. “[Munenori Kawasaki] has done a heckuva job for us, but you take one of the best players in the game out of anybody’s lineup … especially the kind of lineup we possess … he’s going to be at the top creating havoc on the basepaths. Right now, we have a lot of home runs in the middle of our lineup, and they are solo shots.”
It is odd this should emerge as a story with former manager John Farrell and the Boston Red Sox in town for a three-game series, because one of Farrell’s bones of contention with the 2012 Blue Jays was the players failed to take command of their own clubhouse.
Last season, it was veteran Omar Vizquel calling out the Jays for a clubhouse culture shy on responsibility. But that was September.
Here we are in April, and another veteran in his first year with the team has felt the need to stand up.
“To be honest with you, I’ve never been in this situation,” said DeRosa, who has six postseason appearances and was brought in last year by the Washington Nationals to help mentor Bryce Harper. “I’m not used to putting on my uniform and expecting things to go wrong. I expect them to go right, and there’s no reason with this team that it shouldn’t happen.”