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The Globe and Mail

Beneath Brett Lawrie's gung-ho style, a savvy player

The Toronto Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie beats the throw as he slides into third base against the New York Yankees in Dunedin, Fla., March 14, 2012.

Steve Nesius/Reuters/Steve Nesius/Reuters

Brett Lawrie will still run through a brick wall for a double. But not with a strained groin.

For most Toronto Blue Jays fans, the lingering image of the native of Langley, B.C., is the way he single-handedly laid siege to the Blue Jays' dugout following his first career grand slam last season against the Oakland Athletics' Craig Breslow. Edwin Encarnacion, among others, scrambled out of the way while Lawrie's batting helmet ricocheted around the dugout as the third baseman punched his teammates' fists.

It took just a couple of months for the world to know that Lawrie is capable of going hard on and off the field. Yet Lawrie also showed a level of comfort and maturity on Friday when he pulled himself out of a Grapefruit League game with a groin strain. It was posited that he would not have done that last spring, trying as he was to impress everybody after his acquisition from the Milwaukee Brewers for Shaun Marcum.

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Lawrie seemed taken aback at the suggestion, but not as you might think. Take himself out with an injury? Of course he would. "Yeah, I think so," Lawrie said. "My dad always told me if you're hurt, you can't play through it all the time. You just end up hurting yourself worse, and hurting the team."

The Blue Jays had Monday off, a maintenance day for Lawrie after missing two games. His name was down on the travel squad for Wednesday's Grapefruit League road game in Sarasota, Fla., against the Baltimore Orioles. Lawrie has been as hot as the Florida sun, but manager John Farrell says the statistics don't begin to explain what he's seen from the 22-year-old third baseman.

"One thing we've done is gain an appreciation for his instincts in the field," Farrell said. "His decision-making is spot-on many times. His reads defensively are remarkable. I see a player who is just much more confident in his game. He plays full-tilt – we don't ever want him to lose that – but he also has the ability to play under control when needed."

Lawrie hurt himself in a vintage series of plays – legging out an infield hit, stealing second and scoring on a hard-hit ball. "There was," Farrell said with a laugh, "a lot going on." But then there usually is with Lawrie, who came out of the womb with a major-league attitude.

Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia was part of a group of players charged with the responsibility of putting the brakes on Lawrie off the field after he joined the Blue Jays. They'll likely be paired together again in 2012, and Arencibia said Lawrie's persona should not be taken to mean that he doesn't understand the value of self-preservation on the field.

"Brett goes all out when he plays, but he won't kill himself, if that's what you're asking," Arencibia said. "Brett's a very smart baseball guy. He has a lot of baseball sense and knowledge. He'll come back to the dugout after an at-bat and he'll be able to tell you in detail why he did what he did. He has a real understanding for the game for somebody so young."

Because Lawrie is a Canadian-born baseball player, there is a tendency to assume he is some kind of athletic outlier in a land of hockey players. People used to say the same thing about another player born in British Columbia, Larry Walker, and that used to rankle managers such as Felipe Alou, Don Baylor and Tony La Russa, the latter of whom referred to Walker as one of the most instinctive ballplayers he'd been around.

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Walker's career was never what it should have been because of injuries, so here's hoping that Lawrie's fractured middle finger and wrist bruise last year, and this year's groin strain, don't mean there's another similarity in the works.

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