The best battle here is all about approach and process instead of raw numbers, with general manager Alex Anthopoulos already having what he describes as “the uncomfortable conversations” with both Travis Snider and, to a lesser extent, Eric Thames.
But that's not unusual. Anthopoulos meets with every player in camp before Grapefruit League games to tell them where they stand – that they have options left, who is in front of them. It is almost, he says, like a prenuptial.
It would make picking out a left-fielder a little easier for the Toronto Blue Jays if one of them batted right-handed. Instead, this difficult to quantify battle is all about the mind's eye of the manager, hitting coach and GM, with the loser due to be sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas.
The incumbent, Thames, played with what closely resembled the Opening Day lineup (Jose Bautista as designated hitter was the one exception) on Sunday in a 9-5 split-squad win over the Atlanta Braves at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Snider got the bus ride to Disney: three rain delays before a cancellation and lousy traffic.
Thames had a run-scoring single and moved to right field, as manager John Farrell gave righty-swinging Edwin Encarnacion a look in left, a hoped-for option in interleague games.
The numbers are meaningless nine games in to phony season, but suffice to say Snider and Thames are close – okay, they're hitting .294 in the same number of at bats (17) while Snider has hit for more power and has simplified his approach against lefty pitching.
He is, he says, “hunting” in one particular zone, while trying to see as many off-speed pitches as possible. “You see that with lefties against lefties,” Farrell said. “Go get the first-pitch fastball at some point. It's a sign of a maturing hitter.”
Snider homered off the Houston Astros' Zach Duke on Saturday in Dustin McGowan's first Grapefruit League start. That was an uneventful 24-pitch outing against the Houston Astros, in which McGowan settled in at 91 miles an hour, hit 94 with a six- to eight-miles-per hour gap between his fastball and off-speed pitch and more important, experienced a pain-free day 24 hours later, meaning he'll pitch in a minor-league game on Thursday.
Snider said he had taken inspiration from McGowan, noting that the two have been in the organization since Snider was drafted in 2006. It was the first time he remembers playing behind McGowan. Rehabilitating and working out together? Yeah, they've done that. Seems like everyone in the organization has rehabbed with McGowan at one point.
“I learned to respect his character, but seeing him live – when he's lighting up the radar gun – is special,” Snider said. “It's inspirational.”
Snider started dabbling in Zen this winter. Thames, who is his own personal trainer (“Why spend four-grand a month?” he asked,) worked out in his garage, and showed up bulkier everywhere but in his chest work, reasoning a bulkier torso would tighten his arms, cause him to get his elbow up and lengthen his bread-and-butter short swing.
A former college infielder, Thames also broke down his throwing motion, realizing his short-arming throwing style wasn't suited to the outfield. So he watched videotape of pitchers such as 6-foot-6 Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox.
“[Sunday]I made a throw from the outfield on [Dan]Uggla's single and really felt it in the shoulder,” Thames said. “That's good. That's where you should feel it on a throw like that, a throw like a whip. I told the trainers I've done so much throwing now, I can tell when I've done something wrong by where it hurts.”