DUNEDIN, Fla. — John Gibbons doesn’t want Brett Lawrie to dial down the way he plays. The Canadian third baseman has no plans to, and appreciates his new manager’s approach.
“He’s behind all of us and that’s what’s great about him,” Lawrie said Tuesday after checking in for his first day of spring workouts with the Toronto Blue Jays. “If he can be behind me and everyone else we’re going to be better off. I’m just going out there to play. I don’t really feel like I need to change anything, I’m just going to continue doing that, go play hard.”
Lawrie, 23, faced criticism toward the end of last season for what some described as poor judgment, or even a lack of discipline at times, on the basepaths.
He was caught stealing eight times in 21 attempts — twice at third base and twice at home, one of them a straight steal try with Jose Bautista at the plate — was picked off twice and made six other outs on the bases (trying to take an extra base on a hit, caught advancing on a fly ball, doubled off on a line drive).
An unrelenting aggressiveness is largely responsible for that and while former manager John Farrell tried to rein him, Gibbons is of the mind of helping Lawrie learn to better harness his instincts.
“You’re going to make mistakes as a young player in this game, you’ve just got to learn from those things,” he explained. “I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, back off,’ because that’s what got him here, that’s what put him on the map as an amateur. You look for those kind of guys. Three, four years from now I’m sure he’ll slow down a bit, but intensity is a big part of this business and the guys that have it and can do that every day, a lot of the time they’re your better players.”
Lawrie also caught flak with his sometimes reckless style of play, which led him to dive into a camera well at Yankee Stadium and later try to play through a rib cage/oblique problem that eventually landed him on the disabled list.
His reaction to the criticism?
“It didn’t really bother me that much because I still when out and did it,” he said. “If it really bothered me than I wouldn’t have done it. That’s kind of the way I’ve always done things and I’m going to continue moving forward and keep doing the same things I’ve been doing, whatever got me here I’m going to continue to do and try to work on mistakes and capitalize on those and work better for next time.”
Lawrie posted slash lines of .273/.324/.405 in 125 games last season with 11 homers and 48 RBIs, watching his slug shrink 175 points from the stunning 43-game stint he had in 2011.
Asked to assess his 2012, he replied: “I thought I had a pretty good year. I didn’t have a bad year but at the same time you learn from mistakes. Baseball is a game about learning, you learn things throughout the game, especially at the end of the year where you can sit back and reflect on things that went on through the year and prepare for next year. Now it’s about capitalizing because we’ve got the team to push this thing forward. Now it’s about going out there and doing it.”
As for the lessons he intended to apply this year, Lawrie pointed to “more or less trying to stay healthy as best I can. The game keeps going on and just trying to stay healthy as best I can, but obviously not worrying about being healthy. You can’t worry about you can’t do this because I’m going to get hurt. I feel like when you do that sort of thing, that’s when things tend to go wrong. I’m going to continue to do what I’m doing and try to stay healthy as best I can.”
RAYS RELISH YUNEL: How much do the Tampa Bay Rays like Yunel Escobar?
So much so that general manager Andrew Friedman told reporters Tuesday during the club’s pre-spring training news conference that he tried to acquire the shortstop from the Blue Jays before they dealt him to the Miami Marlins, who subsequently flipped him to the Rays.
“We actually spent some time talking to Toronto about Escobar in the past,” Friedman is quoted as saying in a transcript posted on the Tampa Bay Times website. “Immediately when that deal happened, we reached out to Miami and said, ‘Not sure what your plans are, but just know that we’re interested.’ Things materialized in a way that we didn’t think it was going to be possible, and we got to the winter meetings and the Marlins reached back out and it happened pretty quickly.”
The Marlins acquired minor-league infielder Derek Dietrich from the Rays in the Dec. 4 trade.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was excited about what Escobar, whose play with the Blue Jays was unsteady, will bring to his team’s defence up the middle, and sees lots of potential in the Cuban, who destroyed his goodwill in Toronto by taking the field with a homophobic slur on his eye black.
“I really think (Escobar) is capable of being the all-star shortstop, I really do,” Maddon told reporters. “I think he’s that good. One of the better throwing arms in all of baseball at shortstop. Very bright, heady player from an instinctive perspective. Watching it from the outside looking in, I have noticed sometimes in the past, he will make some easy errors and that just might be a focus issue that we could definitely confront and talk about.
“Beyond being capable of being the all-star guy, he could also be a Gold Glove candidate. Then you factor in all of his offensive stuff, this guy’s a pretty good offensive player. He utilizes the whole field and he knows what he’s doing, he’s a baseball player. It’s very exciting to have him in all components and factors of the game and I’m looking forward to it.”
CLOSER CASEY: Gibbons repeated Tuesday that Casey Janssen will open the 2013 season as the club’s closer, even with Sergio Santos returning from shoulder surgery.
Janssen collected 22 saves in 24 chances after taking over from Francisco Cordero, who replaced Santos once the right-hander went on the disabled list.
“Going in Casey is our guy, he did such a good job with it,” said Gibbons. “We’ve got see where Sergio is, too. He missed all last year, he’s got to work his way back in there. It’s always good having more than one guy who can do those jobs, because you’re going to need them both.”
While Janssen raised some concerns by saying he intended “to use every bit of spring training to get right,” following shoulder surgery, the expectation is that he should be ready for opening day. He should be ready to turn things up by the middle of March, the four-month point from his operation.
“Casey’s a little bit behind but it’s nothing to worry about, we’re going to take him slow,” said Gibbons. “He’s been around the game a while now, as long as he’s ready by opening day, that’s all we’re worried about. We’re going to be cautious with him.”
Janssen plans to do the same, and will be taking his time this spring in ways he hasn’t previously. He adjusted to the closer’s job last year and relishes the chance to continue in it.
“If I’m going to be in the bullpen, which is where I’m headed, you want to be in game on the line type situations,” said Janssen. “Closing you obviously get that pressure, and it’s fun to be in that moment.”