Devon Travis was a bit of a mystery man when he arrived in Florida for the Toronto Blue Jays' spring training camp. Mostly he was referred to as "that guy" the team got from the Detroit Tigers in a trade for speedy outfielder Anthony Gose.
Even Toronto manager John Gibbons was unsure what to make of the stocky rookie in February.
"I spoke to [Jim] Leyland and Brad Ausmus over the winter and that's about it," Gibbons said on Tuesday when asked just what he knew about Travis when training camp convened. "They both loved him."
Leyland was the former Detroit manager and Ausmus is the current one, so they were good resources for Gibbons.
"They both said the kid can really play," Gibbons continued, warming to the topic. "They didn't want to lose him. I think they had a need to get somebody who could flag down some balls in centre over there with Gose. But they both said this kid, firstly, he's a wonderful kid, does everything right. And he can really hit. That's basically the way they described him. And I got to believe they were right on."
Gibbons was expounding on the many virtues of his rookie second baseman prior to Toronto's game Tuesday night against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre.
Travis went on to stroke a double in the contest, but it was far from enough as the Blue Jays (13-15) were beaten by another overpowering outing by Michael Pineda in a 6-3 Yankees (17-10) victory. The Yankee right-hander was a bear against the Jays, holding them to five hits over eight innings, striking out five and improving to 4-0 on the year.
With the win, the Yankees have knotted the series at one game apiece.
If you didn't know who Travis was a month ago, when the regular season started, you surely do now. He has been tearing it up and is showing no signs of slowing down.
After having never played at a level above Double-A, Travis won the second baseman's job for the Blue Jays out of spring training and on Monday was selected as the American League's rookie of the month. He is the first position player with the Jays to earn that honour since Reed Johnson back in 2003.
His offensive output has been staggering, batting .325 over his first 25 games while leading the club in home runs (six), runs batted in (19), extra base hits (12) and on-base percentage (.393).
His work around second base, which was supposed to be a weakness, has been stellar, hanging tough at the bag and turning the double play like a veteran.
"I don't know if it was a rap against him," Gibbons said of Travis's supposed defensive deficiencies. "But everybody said they thought he just needed to polish up some things on defence. I haven't seen any of that, either. He's been good with that from Day 1."
Jose Bautista, who has been struggling with a slow-to-heal right shoulder, was not in the Toronto starting lineup for Tuesday's game. Bautista has not been able to play in right field since getting injured, but has been handling the designated-hitting duties.
Gibbons said Bautista is feeling better, just giving him a day off in order to work the underutilized Justin Smoak into the lineup at first base with Edwin Encarnacion sliding into the DH role.
Of course, sitting Bautista had nothing to do with the fact he was a lousy two-for-17 (.118) in his career against Pineda.
Earlier in the day, the Blue Jays called up slugger Chris Colabello from Triple-A Buffalo, where he has been hitting up a storm. Backup shortstop Jonathon Diaz went the other way to make room on the roster.
Colabello was immediately put to work in left field in place of Danny Valencia, who sprained an ankle following Monday's game after catching a cleat on the dugout stairs.
Valencia's injury is not considered serious but it continues a pattern of strange mishaps to have befallen Toronto players this season. Outfielder Michael Saunders is still limping around after damaging his knee stepping on a practice field sprinkler head. He had fluid drained from the knee on Monday and had a cortisone injection and was kept out of Tuesday's lineup. Shortstop Jose Reyes remains on the disabled list after cracking a rib on a checked swing.
"It's something in the water," Gibbons groused about all the odd misfortune.
The Blue Jays sent former reliever Marco Estrada to the mound in his first start since replacing Daniel Norris in the rotation, and he was predictably rusty in the new role. He allowed the five New York runs (four earned) off eight hits through 42/3-innings of work in his first starting assignment since last July, when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Mark Teixeira hit his 10th home run off Estrada in the fifth inning, a two run shot.
Russell Martin had three of Toronto's six hits, including a home run in the ninth off reliever David Carpenter that ruined New York's bid for a shutout.
With Pineda out of the game, the Blue Jays were able to finally make some hay off reliever David Carpenter, tapping him for three runs, including a leadoff home run off the bat of Russell Martin, who had three hits in the game.
That forced New York manger Joe Girardi to go to his closer, Andrew Miller, to face Bautista who came in as a pinch hitter and drew a walk, bringing the tying run to the plate in Travis.
There would be no heroics from the rookie on this night, however, as he lofted a fly ball to left for the third out.