While his bat seems to have come around in time for Brett Lawrie Bobblehead Day at the Rogers Centre on Sunday, the first four months of the season were all but a write-off for the Blue Jays third baseman.
Lawrie's batting average flirted with the gruesome Mendoza Line, .200, as he twice went on, and came off the disabled list.
Lawrie’s an amped-up player and his approach at the plate, reflected by fierce bat waggles, tends to reflect that personality. He was moving around too much in the batter’s box, compounding the difficulty of hitting a 95-mph fastball. He needed to find physical tranquility, in order to focus.
“I have always had that serenity at the plate, and it’s just a matter of refining it,” Lawrie said, before Friday’s 14-6 loss to the Oakland A’s. “I’m trying not to move my feet too much, trying to see the ball better. [Pitchers] are moving the ball all over the place, sinking it, cutting it, doing all kinds of things, and it’s harder to hit it when your head is moving. The videos showed my head was drifting here and there, and now, I’m just trying to keep my balance.”
Lawrie got locked in on the West Coast trip that ended Wednesday, going 15-for-36 (.417), and with an RBI double on Friday, he pushed a hitting streak to a career-high 11 games.
“It takes time, takes games, takes reps, and that’s all it is,” said Lawrie, 23.
Second base and third base have been problem areas for the last-place Jays, though compared with the starting pitching, they qualify as minor irritations. The A's found a remedy to a prolonged offensive slump (22 games, .219 team batting average, 3.3 runs/game) on Friday, as Jed Lowrie hit a three-run homer and Yoenis Cespedes a solo shot before starter Esmil Rogers recorded an out. Josh Reddick hit homers in three consecutive at-bats (solo, solo and three-run) despite coming into the game with a .203 average and five homers on the season.
Rogers lasted three innings and Juan Perez, the second reliever, exited Friday’s with an apparent elbow injury after allowing five runs in 1-2/3 innings.
With this season squandered, the team will seek to shore up the rotation and to ensure consistent production from their second and third basemen over the winter. Lawrie realizes the situation, but says he doesn’t feel the need to impress the front office over the remainder of the season.
“They know what I’m capable of,” he said.
In March, he pulled the oblique muscle in a tune-up game for the World Baseball Classic. The injury deprived the native of Langley, B.C., of the opportunity to play for Team Canada. He missed the first 14 regular-season games and needed more time to rehab, but the Jays infield defence was leaking hits minus the injured shortstop, Jose Reyes (ankle). Called back prematurely, Lawrie never did find his timing and seemed lost, lunging at pitchers’s pitches early in the count. On May 27, batting .209, he injured his ankle and returned to the DL for the fifth time in two years.
“Very frustrating,” he said. “It’s a bitch getting hurt, to be honest with you. You’ve got to go sit in Florida by yourself while everyone else gets into midseason form. It’s hard to stop playing for 40 days and just jump back into it.”
A day before Lawrie hurt the ankle, Lawrie and manager John Gibbons got into a yelling match in the ninth inning of a game against Baltimore. Jose Bautista jumped in as referee to cool things down. Lawrie would not return from the ankle injury until July 13.
The Milwaukee Brewers picked Lawrie in the first round of the 2008 draft, but became impatient with his impatience and traded him for pitcher Shaun Marcum in December of 2010. This season, the Jays signed veteran free agent Mark DeRosa -- a manager, if not a general manager in waiting -- and situated his locker alongside Lawrie’s for the mentorship opportunity. Somewhere along the way, DeRosa and Lawrie may have had a conversation about the dugout dust-up in May.
“He’s been a good ear for Brett,” Gibbons said of DeRosa, who was said to be claimed off waivers and recalled by the Jays this week. “To begin with, he knows how things are supposed to be done right. They’ve become good friends, and Brett’s totally different.”
DeRosa is also a student of hitting, and Lawrie talks as well with teammate Edwin Encarnacion, a power hitter characterized by uncommon ability to make consistent contact.
Upon his return from the DL the second time, he promptly resumed his batting struggles as the Jays experimented briefly with him in the field at second base. Confidence appeared elusive, until the trip West where British Columbians cheered him loudly in Seattle.