Devon Travis was one of the early risers here Monday, two days before the official opening of spring training camp for the pitchers and catchers of the Toronto Blue Jays – and he was paying for the privilege.
It was a little bit before 9 a.m., and Travis had already broken a sweat.
Under the stern control of a trainer, the second baseman was being twisted this way and that on the artificial turf of an area outside the players’ weight room at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Toronto’s Grapefruit League home for the next seven weeks or so.
A hazy Florida sun was just starting to bake off the early-morning dew, and Travis grunted as he was instructed to get into push-up position, with his weight on his forearms, and perform a series of planks designed to strengthen his core.
After that, he went for a little walk, clasping a big, black, heavy kettlebell in each hand. “The trick is to try to keep your face looking like you’re not working hard,” he said, obviously failing in this regard.
One of the most congenial baseball players – quick with a smile and a good-to-see-you greeting to a member of the media that actually feels genuine – Travis has been at this routine since the start of the year.
This season marks a huge step for Travis, who is eager to show the Blue Jays that his brittle nature of the past two years, when injuries robbed him of significant playing time, is behind him.
And if he can manage to avoid the trainer’s table, one of Toronto’s concerns – the lack of a bona fide leadoff hitter – may also be a thing of the past.
“That would be ideal,” Travis said about the prospect of hitting first in the order for a club that still packs plenty of offensive punch – even in the absence of Edwin Encarnacion, their home run leader last season, who left for the Cleveland Indians as a free agent.
Travis said he could also see himself batting ninth as a setup man for whomever manager John Gibbons deems worthy of leading things off.
“Or I could be hitting first in front of the best hitter in baseball,” Travis enthused, a reference to Josh Donaldson, who has made hitting out of the two-hole his home since his arrival in Toronto in 2015. “Either way, I’m good for it.”
Although pitchers and catchers are not required to be here until Tuesday, when physicals will be conducted, many of the cast and a good number of position players – who don’t have to be here until Friday – have already shown up.
Twenty-game winner J.A. Happ was here and threw a bullpen, as did Aaron Sanchez, who appears beefed up, ready to head into a season without an innings-pitched count hanging over his head.
Even Gibbons was on hand Monday, casual and content in his blue jeans and scuffed cowboy boots, looking as if he had just parked his Harley in the back lot.
The regular season doesn’t start until April 3 for Toronto. By that time, Travis hopes his surgically repaired right knee, which he injured in the first game of the American League Championship Series against the Indians in mid-October, will be good as new.
“My knee feels better every single day,” he said. “I’m feeling great. I’m swinging, I’m throwing – basically doing everything. Just going to see what the plan is going forward with the team.”
But is the knee at 100 per cent?
“It’s getting there,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s 100 per cent yet, for sure. It’s been definitely a lot of work this off-season. It’s seriously gotten better every day, every week. I’ve been down here since the first week of January getting after it.”
Travis came over to the Blue Jays in a trade two years ago with the Detroit Tigers, with centrefielder Anthony Gose going the other way. While Gose is still struggling to launch his MLB career, Travis made an immediate hit with the Blue Jays, leaving camp in 2015 as the starting second baseman.
His rookie season got off to a rousing start as he showed good life with the bat and soon worked his way into the batting leadoff position. Over the first month of the season, Travis batted a hefty .325 with six home runs and 19 runs batted in, and was selected as the A.L. rookie of the month.
But things quickly turned sour after he took a batted ball off his left shoulder blade in late April. He tried to play through the pain but couldn’t and eventually had season-ending surgery that kept him out of the lineup until late May last season.
He reclaimed his spot at second base and helped Toronto make its successful run into the playoffs, where a recurring knee injury once again curtailed his season.
He is convinced his bad luck is behind him and is excited to see a Blue Jays roster he believes will be bolstered by a couple of free-agent additions in designated hitter Kendrys Morales and utility infielder Steve Pearce.
Morales hit 12 of his 30 home runs last season at spacious Kauffman Stadium while playing for the Kansas City Royals, which yielded the second-fewest home runs in the A.L. in 2016.
To Travis, that is impressive.
“Now playing in A.L. East ballparks, that could be really friendly for him,” Travis said. “To have him and Steve Pearce, who can freakin’ hit, man. He can flat-out hit.
“We’ve got a real good team. We still got the same core guys. And any time you can say Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson in the same sentence, that’s a pretty special club.”Report Typo/Error
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