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Blue Jays’ Devon Travis eager to get back after season derailed by injury

Toronto Blue Jays’ Devon Travis was honoured as the American League rookie of the month last April, when he hit for a .325 average with six home runs, six doubles and 19 runs batted in.

Orlin Wagner/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

It was a particularly nasty night in Cleveland in late April of last season. It was wet, cold – about 7 Celsius at the start of the game – and breezy.

For Devon Travis, second baseman of the Toronto Blue Jays, the night was about to get a whole heck of lot more uncomfortable.

In the bottom of the third inning, Brandon Moss of the Indians absolutely laced a line drive toward Travis, who was backed up in shallow right field to defend the lefty hitter.

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The ball skipped up off the damp grass with unexpected velocity and caught Travis full on in the left collarbone. He somehow managed to shrug off the pain and stay in the game.

Travis didn't really know it at the time, but the damage to his shoulder was serious. And the lighthearted rookie with the easy smile has not been the same since.

As the rest of his teammates go about the daily grind here at spring training in preparation for the start of the 2016 Major League Baseball season next month, there is still no batting and no throwing for Travis.

"It's good. It's getting there," said Travis, whose shoulder injury – since surgically repaired – cut short what was shaping up to be a special 2015 season. "I'm progressing pretty good, finally starting to turn the corner, so that's good thing."

About the only thing Travis can do is spend time in the gym, and it is showing. The guy is constructed like a washing machine with hips so broad he likely has to slip sideways through turnstiles.

But Travis has no idea when he'll be able to get back to baseball activities, and neither does the ball club. There has been speculation that he might be ready to go a month into the season, but it is just a guess.

"I like to rush stuff, and this isn't something that you can rush," Travis said. "I had a pretty serious surgery and I need to continue to remind myself that it's a process and I need to do it right.

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"I have a time in my head, but that doesn't mean that that's something that everybody else will go by. I'm doing all I can to get back as quick as I can. That's my main goal – getting back as quick as I can while being 100-per-cent healthy."

So while Travis impatiently plays the waiting game, his teammates are out there playing baseball – on Monday the Blue Jays defeated the visiting Atlanta Braves 3-1 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium to improve to 5-1-1 in Grapefruit League play.

Ryan Goins got the start at second base on Monday, and that's where he'll start once the regular season begins – not a bad Plan B for the Blue Jays. And left fielder Michael Saunders, continuing to show that he has fully recovered from the knee issues that plagued him a year ago, knocked his third home run of the spring campaign.

"Hey, don't use 'em all up," manager John Gibbons joshed about the Canadian's power stroke.

Travis was a revelation in spring training last year – going in, he was not given much of a chance to earn anything except a ticket to triple-A. Instead, he played his way into a starting role at second base with solid hitting, a trait he carried into the start of the regular season.

Travis eventually supplanted the injured Jose Reyes at the top of the batting order. And in April – when he hit for a .325 average with six home runs, six doubles and 19 runs batted in – Travis was honoured as the American League rookie player of the month.

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Things were looking great up until that soggy night in Cleveland.

After he got hit, Travis was sore and tried to play through the pain, but he was not the same player. Over the next 14 games, his batting average dipped to .189, and that prompted the Blue Jays to place him on the disabled list with what the club described as shoulder inflammation. Travis was sidelined for 36 games, came back and hit well (.326) over the next 26, but had to come out of a game on July 28, when he again injured the shoulder.

It was the final game he would play on the season, and the club struggled to determine the exact nature of his continuing shoulder pain.

In September, the 25-year-old had surgery to drain a cyst in the shoulder, but the real source of his problem was not confirmed until a couple of months later. An X-ray determined that Travis was suffering from a condition known as os acromiale.

The acromion is the most prominent bone on top of the shoulder, a spot where four separate bones join into one as a person grows into adulthood.

In about 8 per cent of the population, some of the bones don't completely fuse, which is normally not a problem for the un-athletically inclined. In Travis's case, he was kind of a ticking time bomb for discomfort just by the nature of his job.

Surgery to fuse the bone in Travis's shoulder was done in November, and it left him in a brace, with his arm locked across his chest for almost two months. Now, he is just awaiting word from his surgeon when the patch job is fully healed and he can resume playing.

"I just want to get back out on the field and enjoy the game that I love," he said.

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