The whole dumb-as-a-fox thing still works for John Gibbons after five full days of workouts – five down, 40 to go! – but let there be no mistake: The Toronto Blue Jays manager is well aware about the soft, white underbelly of the 2012 team.
He has “heard some things,” he said Wednesday, about the Blue Jays’ misadventures on the basepaths last year under his predecessor, John Farrell.
Those “things” – such as Brett Lawrie getting thrown out at third base with one out in the eighth inning of a 5-5 tie with the Boston Red Sox, on a play right in front of him – hinted of an erratic disposition that can be annoying when a team is playing out the string but deadly in a season like 2013, where the Blue Jays have spent so much time and money positioning themselves for a run at the American League East title.
Nobody will be merely grimacing or rolling their eyes this season.
Gibbons said he will give “most of the guys the green light [to run],” but added: “We’re too good an offence to rely on manufacturing runs. You don’t want to end the inning with the wrong guy at the plate instead of having a shot to blow open an inning because of a stupid base-running error.
“And you can never get caught stealing third base with two out. That should never happen.”
The statistics and the naked eye bear out that baseball has become a different offensive game as it continues to purge its system of steroids and increases the focus on human growth hormone (HGH) and other performance-enhancing drugs.
The Blue Jays figure to have a different offensive dimension this season as well, given the addition of the likes of speedsters Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio. Waiting at Triple-A Buffalo is Anthony Gose, who could become one of the game’s dominant base-stealers. And the Blue Jays have hired Tim Raines (808 stolen bases in his lengthy major-league career) as a minor-league base-running instructor for the next generation (such as Dwight Smith and D.J. Davis).
Reyes is an accomplished base-stealer in his own right, of course, but when Rickey Henderson was a coach with the New York Mets, he sounded him out and Reyes said he will tap into Raines’s knowledge, too. Reyes has stolen 410 bases in 513 career attempts and his 40 with the Miami Marlins last season was his most since 2008.
He says he has a deliberate approach to using spring training to hone that part of his game.
“Mostly, I work on my style more than the results,” said Reyes, who will play for the Dominican Republic in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. “In the spring, I like to work on getting a good jump and getting a comfortable lead when the chances are there.”
Reyes said when he was with the Mets (the first nine years of his career), he would sometimes use a set of personal signals between himself and the batter hitting behind him in the event he reached first base. It’s not uncommon, especially for clubs with clearly defined leadoff and No. 2 hitters, for the leadoff hitter to tip off the batter that he is about to run.
“After a while, I didn’t like it,” Reyes said. “I started telling the hitters: ‘You do your thing, I don’t want to get in the middle of your game. If you see me going, you might want to take the pitch but I’m not going to tell you that.’
“What if I get a bad jump, and it’s a fastball down the middle? Nobody’s helped, then. So I tell them that I do my thing and they should do theirs – if you want to swing at the first pitch, do it. Second pitch? Do it.”
Gibbons could not have been clearer through the first week of spring training: The deciding factor in whether relievers Casey Janssen or Sergio Santos close, or Brett Cecil makes the bullpen, or Maicer Izturis or Bonifacio start at second base – heck, whether incumbent J.P. Arencibia is behind the plate to catch R.A Dickey on opening day (instead of Henry Blanco or Josh Thole) – will be whatever maximizes the chance to win.
Gibbons will manage each inning with that goal in mind, too, and give varying degrees of rope to various players. But when it comes to running, Reyes will be on his own.