There is an extra spring in Devon Travis’s step these days, which is saying something about the perpetually upbeat member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Unfailingly polite – it is rumoured that Travis even fist-bumps Uber drivers and hotdog vendors – it takes a lot to get this 27-year-old down.
But after three successive seasons of injury-interrupted play, the glint in his eye must have started to fade as he began to wonder if his major-league career would take hold.
The Blue Jays second baseman of the future was growing tired of always being referred to as the Blue Jays second baseman of the future.
His solid play of late at second, combined with productive at-bats, has reinvigorated Travis’s career, in his own eyes and that of manager John Gibbons.
“He’s rolling, he looks like the old guy,” Gibbons said before the Blue Jays played Wednesday night at Rogers Centre for their second game of their three-game tilt against the steamrolling Boston Red Sox.
“We’ve been waiting on that.”
Baseball’s best outfit continued to impose its will against the floundering Blue Jays, carving out an 10-5 win with a chance to earn a series sweep in Thursday’s finale. Boston’s record is an eye-popping 81-34 while Toronto’s dipped to 51-62.
It was Boston’s sixth consecutive victory and 12th win in 15 games against Toronto this year, as clear an indication as anything how wide the talent gulf is between the teams.
And what chance, really, did Toronto have, with Mike Hauschild making his major-league start against the Red Sox mashers.
Hauschild could not get out of the third inning where he was hammered for four runs off four hits and a 4-0 Boston lead.
“He’s facing the hottest team in baseball right now,” Gibbons said afterwards in defence of the tough outing by Hauschild. “They don’t miss much.
“They got great balance in their lineup and they’re hot – and they’re good.”
Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts accounted for three runs off one hit (a double), a sacrifice fly and a bases-loaded walk. Third baseman Rafael Devers also homered for Boston.
Teoscar Hernandez provided a two-run homer for Toronto in the sixth and Randal Grichuk added a monster three-run blast in the seventh that at least made the final score a bit more respectable.
Travis did little to recommend himself on Wednesday with the bat, going 0-for-5, his average dipping to .245 on the season.
He did contribute a couple of nice defensive plays at second, most notably in the sixth when he lept like a high jumper to snare a line drive off from Sandy Leon.
But Travis’s overall performance recently has been a revelation for a player whose playing time at the start of the season was carefully monitored, given his injury history.
When he was hitting just .148 toward the end of April, Travis was sent down to Triple-A Buffalo for a little tuneup work.
He was gone for a little less than a month and returned determined to get things right.
“I’m just trying to make sure my work now is smarter and not harder,” Travis said. “I used to go in there and take 5,000 swings in the batting cage every day hoping I’d find that one swing that made me feel right.
“Now it’s a little simpler. Do the same thing every day, work on the same stuff every day. As long as you can walk out of the cage feeling good and confident I think that’s bigger than going in and taking a million swings.”
The approach seems to be working.
Wednesday night marked his sixth straight start at second base and for the fifth game in the row he was hitting second after being in the bottom third in the order for most of the season.
It was a reward for his .316 batting average over his previous 24 games, a hot streak that included three home runs and 17 runs batted in.
“It’s probably the best I’ve felt since 2015, body-wise, at least before I had my first injury,” Travis said.
Travis said he is not sure why he was struggling at the plate earlier in the season but suggested that a knee injury that curtailed his playing time to 50 games in 2017 played a role.
“I think when you miss a lot of time, if you’re even a little bit rusty or you’re getting back into the flow of things, this isn’t a league where you can be rusty and get back,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready to go.”