PHOENIX — The Toronto Blue Jays expect Brett Lawrie to be ready for opening day, but a mild strain near the third baseman’s 10th rib and left intercostal muscle forced him to withdraw from Canada’s entry to the World Baseball Classic on Friday.
Though no one seems to feel the issue is serious, caution and prudence ruled the day as the native of Langley, B.C. – drawing upon his experience with a right oblique injury last season – realized it made little sense for him to push the envelope.
While understandable, Lawrie’s loss was another blow to a Canadian team that’s already endured a steady stream of them, from Scott Diamond’s surprise elbow surgery in December, to Ryan Dempster’s no, to Russell Martin’s stunning withdrawal.
Lawrie desperately wanted to play in the Classic and during a brief conversation with reporters in the Chase Field dugout as his teammates worked out, couldn’t even bring himself to say that he was out of the tournament.
“For the most part I will not be playing, and I don’t foresee myself in the tournament at all,” was how he put it.
But he definitely won’t play, headed back to Dunedin, Fla., on Monday to rejoin the Blue Jays and lock into the work needed to be ready for April 2, with Taylor Green of the Milwaukee Brewers slated to take his place in Canada’s lineup.
“Going out there and playing and having it nag at me a little bit would not benefit my team nor my country nor myself,” said an ashen-faced Lawrie. “Right now it’s important for me to take this time and get things back to where they need to be. If I continued playing on it, this thing could turn into something it doesn’t need to be.
“I’m glad I learned about taking myself out of the game and catching it at the right time as opposed to letting it get as worse as it can.”
The exact cause of the injury was unclear, although Lawrie pinpointed it to “that one inning I had a couple of rockets hit at me, left, right, left, right, I was laying out,” during Wednesday’s 12-2 exhibition loss to the Cincinnati Reds. He came out of the game after three innings to receive treatment and the diagnosis of a strain and the recommendation that he sit came down Thursday morning.
Lawrie wasn’t sure about a time-frame, but in Sarasota, Fla., where the Blue Jays were playing the Baltimore Orioles, general manager Alex Anthopoulos told reporters he’s likely to be out two-to-three weeks, possibly less.
“Hopefully it’s two weeks, but right now, based on that, you expect he’ll be ready for opening day,” said Anthopoulos. “He’s been through it. He said what he had last year was 10 times worse than this, but he knows.
“Obviously there was something there and he was smart. He felt something going to his left on a ground ball and something on a swing and he’s smart enough not to take any chances and aggravate it. My biggest things with these is how long and is it serious, and it’s not serious.”
More serious is the damage to Canada’s lineup, as not only does manager Ernie Whitt’s squad lose its No. 5 hitter, but also its most potent right-handed bat in heavily left-handed batting order.
Michael Saunders of the Seattle Mariners is likely to slide up into the fifth spot, but the lineup is suddenly much shorter.
“It’s definitely a blow to this team,” said Whitt, “but sometimes in baseball you have things that you have to overcome, and this – hopefully we’ll be able to overcome this.”
Word spread among the players during batting practice, giving them time to absorb the latest piece of adversity thrown their way.
“We’re all disappointed, it’s a loss,” said Shawn Hill, who will start against Italy in Canada’s opener Friday. “I don’t know if you would say devastating because we still are going to go out there, we’ve got our other bats. But no question it’s a loss. Disappointment, frustration, feeling bad for Brett.
“Hopefully, we can go out there and pick up the slack for him and he can kind of enjoy it with us in that way.”
While some used the injury as an excuse to criticize the Classic, neither he nor Anthopoulos felt the tournament was responsible.
Lawrie pointed out that injuries can happen anywhere at any time, while Anthopoulos said, “I think it would have occurred here, I really do.”
Either way, the Blue Jays are thankful that it wasn’t any worse and that Lawrie was smart enough to learn from his experience last year not to try and play through something small and make it big.
Lawrie plans to watch the games with his team to try and offer whatever support he can before returning to the Blue Jays.
“Now it’s all about getting myself ready for the beginning of the season, paying my dues to my club and trying to get myself back to square one and trying to get myself healthy. That’s the No. 1 goal right now,” said Lawrie. “It’s tough for me, but it’s tough for everybody. This is a situation that doesn’t come around a whole lot and to have it taken away from something so small like this, is frustrating for me. I worked so hard this whole off-season and spring training to get myself ready for this, to have it taken away like that … I feel I’m a piece of that puzzle and I really wanted to be in it.”
— With files from Michael Grange in Sarasota, Fla.