SPECIAL TO SPORTSNET.CA
By Melissa Couto
Last April, the Blue Jays left their spring training camp in Dunedin, Fla. with a league-best 24-7 pre-season record.
By late September, however, Toronto’s 89 regular season losses became as much an indication as any that spring training wins really don’t mean much.
Like many professional baseball players, Colby Rasmus agrees with that. But he also suggests that sometimes, early success can cause problems later.
"Wins in spring training, they don’t count -- that's not to say we’re not trying to win -- but to me, last year sometimes we were trying too hard and everybody got too pumped up about it," Rasmus said before an exhibition game earlier this month.
"You can’t really carry that kind of success into the regular season because in the big leagues, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Anybody can win on any given night."
Decimated by injuries and surrounded by reports of a lack of leadership and accountability in the clubhouse last year, the Blue Jays could not live up to the high expectations placed on them before the season began.
For Rasmus, the pressure seemed inescapable.
As he himself admitted, the more he thought about it, the worse he performed. His stats tell the same tale.
Through the first 85 games of the season, Rasmus racked up a .259 batting average with 53 RBIs and 83 hits, including 18 doubles and three triples. He walked 30 times and hit 17 home runs for a .821 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
But after the all-star break things turned sour for the left-hander. Through 66 games, Rasmus hit just .176 with a .238 OBP and .515 OPS.
"I think that last year, with the success we had in the spring, that got us riding a little too high and once we started struggling, everybody started panicking," Rasmus said. "I started thinking, 'Oh, I've got to do it because everybody's talking about it,' instead of just relaxing and going through the process."
After last season's disappointment, Rasmus says he's learned to deal with the pressure, and with the plethora of new, highly talented players added to the roster this offseason, that lesson couldn't have come at a better time.
Tickets to opening day on April 2 sold out within minutes. Bodog currently lists Toronto's odds of winning the World Series at 8/1, second only to the Washington Nationals (7/1).
The hype is more present than ever, but Rasmus doesn't see it that way.
"I don’t think there’s too much hype surrounding this team," the Alabama native said pointedly. "I feel like last year we had too much hype going on, but this year, it (seems warranted). You're going to have hype because of the new guys."
With two final exhibition games against the Phillies in Philadelphia on Friday and Saturday, the Jays finished their 2013 spring campaign below .500.
It's a far cry from last spring's results, and Rasmus is okay with that.
"We’re playing 162 games plus spring training -- that's a lot of baseball and we're going to lose sometimes." Rasmus said. "You see the greatest players, they’re not out there going crazy when things don’t go their way. They’re calm, they’re relaxed, and that’s exactly what we have to do.
"When you hear the hype, it makes you want to shoot for the stars but you have to try to stay focused and not worry about what's being said."
On Tuesday, the real games begin, and Rasmus believes Toronto will be ready to compete.
"They gave us a good team to play with," Rasmus said. "If we relax and have confidence in ourselves, we'll be fine."