TORONTO – Brett Lawrie escaped serious injury after getting hit by a pitch Tuesday night but it was unclear how the bruise on his left hand will affect looming plans for his arrival in the big-leagues.
The much hyped Canadian third base prospect was expected to make his big-league debut as soon as Friday when the Toronto Blue Jays open a three-game series in Baltimore against the Orioles, but that was before he was taken to a Las Vegas hospital for precautionary X-rays.
Lawrie’s hand swelled up after he was struck by Tucson’s Anthony Bass in the first inning and he was promptly removed from an eventual 4-1 loss, but avoided any major damage upon further examination.
There was no immediate word on his status for the coming days.
"Just a BRUISE !!!" was the initial message posted on his Twitter feed, adding later: "I appreciate everyones support , thank you to my fans , friends and family ! #bestpossiblenews."
The close call came mere hours after Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was full of praise for the 21-year-old from Langley, B.C., saying he was “close” to a callup from triple-A and that the only thing holding him back was “just a decision we need to make.”
While Anthopoulos offered no timeline on Lawrie’s arrival other than a vague “sooner rather than later,” several sources pointed to Friday as the day Blue Jays fans have been anxiously awaiting.
“He’s really done everything that we’ve asked,” Anthopoulos said during a lengthy chat with reporters.
Adding to the likelihood of a Friday debut, if healthy, is that several of the club’s top evaluators – including assistant GM Tony LaCava – have in the past week or so been down south to watch Lawrie play and come away impressed. Minor-league infield instructor Mike Mordecai also raved about the progress Lawrie, a second baseman until this season, has made at third.
Few prospects in team history have captured the imagination like Lawrie, who was acquired in December from the Milwaukee Brewers for starter Shaun Marcum. Initial word of the expected call up made him a trending topic in Canada on Twitter.
A rare combination of power, speed and grit, Lawrie would offer a sometimes thin Blue Jays lineup a jolt, and could help stabilize a position that’s been a steady source of trouble all season.
Prior to Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to Cleveland, Edwin Encarnacion, Jayson Nix, John McDonald, Mike McCoy and Chris Woodward combined to bat a big-league worst .179, with four home runs (tied for 11th), 11 doubles (tied for 13th), 19 RBIs (21st) and 18 runs (26th) at third base.
Lawrie, meanwhile, carried a .354 average with 15 homers, 49 RBIs and 51 runs in 51 games into Tuesday’s action with Las Vegas, but it was only over the last month that he really turned the corner.
Though he tore up the Pacific Coast League in April, Lawrie’s 4-23 walks-to-strikeouts ratio was “alarming” to Anthopoulos because it “didn’t make me feel like (the hot start) was going to be a sustainable thing.”
The team then decided to “talk to him about controlling the strike zone, improving that walk rate, lowering that strikeout rate, all those things,” said Anthopoulos. “I wanted to see if we ask him to make those changes, can he start doing it?
“He’s consciously made an adjustment to his approach. I wanted to make sure is he doing it for a week, two weeks, three weeks, is this cemented? I’m starting to believe now it’s become part of his game. He’s not a finished product, he’s 21, but a month of a certain approach at the plate and now we’re getting to the end of the other month of what we hope is his approach going forward.”
While fans have been awed by the gaudy numbers he’s posted with the 51s, it’s the subtleties in Lawrie’s game that have caught the attention of Anthopoulos. The walks-to-strikeouts ratio in May is 14-17, for instance, but Anthopoulos delves even deeper.
“I get excited when I read laid off sliders (in the team reports),” said Anthopoulos.
“I was hoping he was going to force our hand and he’s starting to,” he added. “So he’s very much in the conversation right now, he’s becoming more prominent. There’s a reason a guy like Mike Mordecai is in there, to make sure the defence is where it needs to be, there’s a reason Tony LaCava just came back from there. He’s done very, very well.”