Brett Lawrie stopped the interview, inhaled a deep breath, and then let it out with a “whoosh” while sweeping his arms down to his side. He shrugged. Pretty simple, no?
He still wears his headphones out to the batting cage during early batting practice – which annoys many around the team – and still has the bat waggle as he stands in at home plate. He is a frenetic ball of energy as he stands at second base, pawing the artificial turf, jiving along to whatever song is played over the P.A. system.
His manager, John Gibbons, raised some eyebrows on Friday before Lawrie made his home major-league debut at second base, when he suggested that Lawrie “seems nice and relaxed.”
The Zen of Brett Lawrie? Not quite.
But as Lawrie took his extra BP four hours before game time with hitting instructor Chad Mottola, something was noticeably different: Lawrie stood still at the plate, resting his bat on his right shoulder for a breath. He commenced the trademark waggle of the bat that has become a focal point of concern about his regression as a hitter – but it was much quieter than in the past.
“I’m not calling it anything,” Mottola said later when he was asked if he was attempting to perform gradual surgery on Lawrie’s swing. “All I’ve told him is I want him to give himself a chance to breathe.”
Lawrie’s currency with Blue Jays management, fans and probably even a few of his teammates has been diminished since he first blazed onto the scene in 2011. Twelve months ago, the notion of moving him from third base back to second base, where he was before the Blue Jays acquired him from the Milwaukee Brewers, was the stuff of heresy.
Yet that’s where he suddenly found himself during his recent injury rehabilitation option, and that’s where he was when he was activated off the 15-day disabled list in time for the Blue Jays’ final series before the all-star break.
Truth is, nobody’s much worried about his work around the bag – other than baserunners sliding in to break up double plays, there’s little for him to run into at second; no photographer’s wells or first rows of seats or dugouts. Lawrie – wouldn’t you know it? – was charged with an error on the first ball he handed off the Rogers Centre’s artificial turf on Friday night, booting a Kelly Johnson bouncer after ranging to his left , but absent a pennant race yet again, the bigger concern is whether Lawrie will regain his offensive usefulness; whether he will regain the type of instant, jaw-dropping impact that former manager John Farrell once mangled as his “knack for the flair.”
If, as the advertisement says, Red Bull gives you wings, then Brett Lawrie’s an air force. What the Blue Jays want to see him do is slow down. Let the game come to him. Become, in other words, a walking cliché of a professional baseball player.
“I came in on Thursday to work out, and we (he and Mottola) had a chat,” Lawrie said. “We talked about how it’s important to just let out a big breath out there when you get up to the plate. I mean, you watch guys and you can actually see them do it. That,” Lawrie added in conclusion, “is pretty much what we’re talking about.”
His first at-bat against David Price ended on a lineout to second base. You could see Lawrie fighting – and mostly losing – the battle to become quieter at the plate. The bat would start to settle on his shoulder, then it was back up again quickly, waggling this way and that.
To give his swing a chance, it might be that Lawrie needs to adopt some of the subtle delaying tactics of players, such as Derek Jeter: a half-step out, tug of the gloves, hand back in the air as if asking for time. Reload, repeat. Maybe then, Lawrie can once again become the player who could take your breath away. Just like that.