All Edwin Encarnacion wants is an injury-free season to show what he can do.
The Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter has been hampered by injuries to his left wrist, which he says he has made stronger as part of an off-season fitness program.
“In the off-season I worked with my wrist every day,” Encarnacion said. “This year is going to be different, I think.”
He played 134 games last season, batting .272 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs. It's the most games the 29-year-old has played in three seasons with Toronto.
He hit 21 homers in 96 contests in 2010.
“When you have a bad wrist, you can swing but it's not going to be the same,” he said. “You're not going to have the same power, you're not going to have the same timing.
“Nothing is going to be the same.”
He also has expanded his defensive horizons. Primarily a third baseman during his career, he added first base to his resume last season.
Last September, he began to work on playing left field before games and played five contests there during winter baseball in his native Dominican Republic.
The work has continued during spring training as he played in left field late in Sunday's 9-5 win over Atlanta. He started at first in Monday's 4-1 win over Baltimore but finished in left.
He will continue to become acquainted with left field during spring training. The intention is to keep his right-handed bat in the lineup during interleague games in National League cities where the DH is not used.
“We're hoping to get him into a handful of games (in left field),” manager John Farrell said. “We set this in motion last September.
“We don't want to make him unavailable when we get into interleague play. We'll see if it has got more possibilities beyond that.”
Encarnacion worked on his overall fitness during the off-season with a personal trainer.
“I did better work than last year,” he said. “I've also been running a lot.”
Added Farrell: “I thought he was running well at the end of last year. He's in great shape, he's trimmed down and come in at I think a better playing weight. And he's moving very well.
“You can see it in his pre-game work at third base, it's much more fluid. Compliments to him for taking the initiative to come in the shape he is in.”
Being versatile makes Encarnacion more valuable even though he figures to have most of his at-bats as DH.
“We've always taken the approach that we want our DH to be flexible enough to play a defensive position,” Farrell said.
Encarnacion said his wrist was a little sore when he was playing winter ball.
“But nothing bad,” he said. “I didn't want to play any more.
“I wanted to come here to spring training to be 100 per cent because I don't want to be 80 per cent or 70 per cent. That's why I stopped playing.”
Encarnacion relishes the challenge of learning new positions even if he does not have a reputation of being a stellar fielder.
“I trained myself to be ready to play third, first base or outfield, I feel great in all three positions,” Encarnacion said. “I enjoy it.
“Before I didn't think I would be playing all those positions, I thought I was only going to play only third base. For me that's great, I can play any position. Not many people can do that.”
Besides, Toronto has Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., to play third base.
At third, Encarnacion's problem is often his throwing. But that seems to have improved.
“I just go out there to try to do the best I can,” he said. “I sometimes make a bad throw and I take that out of my mind because if I have it in my mind it will bother me. I just keep working, don't think about it and have fun.
“I just started playing first base last year. This year I feel better, more comfortable. It's different because from first base, you don't have too many throws and from third base you have to make a lot of long throws. From first base you have to be ready for everything, every ground ball.”
Encarnacion's potential with the bat is what has kept him with the Blue Jays, who hope their faith in him pays off.
“He looks like he's shortened up his swing a little bit,” hitting coach Dwayne Murphy said. “He's a little more compact and he's really driving the ball to all parts of the field.
“I think he's getting the confidence that he needs to be that type of hitter.”
The wrists are obviously important to a hitter but Murphy said sometimes a player might not want to admit it when one is bothering him.
“There are times you can see it,” Murphy said. “But when you're not that everyday guy and your wrist is bothering you, you're not going to say it. You're just going to try to battle through it. It's good to see him healthy now.
“The swing you see him doing out there is the swing you want to see from him and I hope he's going to have a good year. The way he's looking he is. He looks stronger and you can see his swing is stronger.”
Encarnacion says he's capable of a lot, if he can stay healthy.
“If I play every day and don't get hurt like what happened to me the last couple years I think I can put some numbers up there,” he said. “I know I can do it. I can hit 30 home runs.”
Which would be just fine with Farrell.
“We'll take that as well,” he said.
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