As the Toronto Blue Jays investigate replacing their AstroTurf with real grass, the club is being reminded how unnatural it is for the sport to be played on synthetic fibres covering a concrete floor.
The original lineup for Saturday's game showed Colby Rasmus playing centre field. But he became a late scratch from Sunday's 3-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, just two games after returning from an oblique injury that had kept him out of action since Aug. 11.
"Overall soreness, in the whole body, from running on this turf out here," Rasmus explained.
There's speculation that the club will trade star right fielder Jose Bautista in the offseason. Bautista has played five seasons on concrete, and this year he missed games because of ankle and back injuries before shutting down on Aug. 21 with an injury diagnosed as a bruised bone at the top of his left femur. Bautista says he wants to stay with the Blue Jays. But the possibility of the artificial surface exacting a gradual toll on his body is something for the club, and the player, to consider. He turns 33 in October.
While muscle strains can't always be attributed directly to the effect of artificial turf, it is certain that natural grass on dirt is more pliable over an 81-game schedule.
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said the Rogers Centre artificial turf reacts differently each time the team visits. That is likely because the rolls of the surface are removed and placed on pallets between homestands. One consequence is protruding seams. In late August, Yankees second baseman Eduardo Nunez caught his spike in a seam while turning toward centre field and crumpled to the ground in pain with a twisted knee.
Jose Reyes, under contract for $66-million over the next three seasons, has a history of hamstring and ankle injuries. The effect of the synthetic surface on his legs was a risk the Jays had factor in to the trade with Miami last November. Ripped ankle ligaments caused by a slide into second base in Kansas City cost him 2 1/2 months this season. On Friday, he came up hobbling after a spectacular throw by Baltimore's Adam Jones from right-centre field cut him down at third, trying to stretch a double into a triple.
DH/first baseman Adam Lind, whose solo homer in the second inning against Miguel Gonzalez (10-7) accounted for Toronto's only run on Sunday, deals with recurring back problems. The turf has little give; it can be rigorous on backs. The club must decide whether to pick up a $7-million contract option for 2014 or pay a $2-million buyout, and it's reasonable to assume that wear-and-tear will factor into the decision.
"The last couple of years it's been rough," Lind said, when asked about the back Sunday. "This year, it's been mostly pain-free, or pain-management. It can flare up, whenever."
Baseball simply isn't meant to be played on artificial turf. It changes the nature of the game.
On Friday night, right fielder Moises Sierra, who's unaccustomed to turf, backed up on Steve Clevenger's fly ball and had it bounce over his head for a game-tying two-run double in the seventh inning of a 5-3 loss. On grass, the ball would have come up to his waist. In the seventh inning of Sunday's game, Brett Lawrie broke from first base and would have scored easily on a double down the right-field line by Edwin Encarnacion, but the ball jumped into the stands for a ground-rule double. They were stranded when Sierra struck out with the bases loaded.
After Danny Valencia gave Baltimore the lead with a two-run double in the third off Mark Buehrle (11-9), the turf came into play in the fourth inning. Michael Morse reached on a Reyes error, though the shortstop nearly got him at first by skipping a two-hop throw off the turf from the hole. That doesn't happen on grass. Brian Roberts then scorched a two-hopper over the third-base bag that Lawrie couldn't reach, whereas grass would have slowed the ball to give Lawrie a chance.
When Chris Davis came to bat in the same inning with two out and drew a bases-loaded walk, second baseman Ryan Goins stationed himself halfway out to right field, as he could have turned a hard-hit grounder into an out. Not on grass and dirt.