Jose Reyes needs a bit of prompting before it comes back to him. Marlins Park, Oct. 2, 2012, leading off the bottom of the 11th, a liner over the head of Andres Torres, a head-first slide, no throw into the bag, then scoring the winning run four batters later in a 4–3 Miami victory over the Mets. The hit and the victory were rare highlights in a season of misery in South Florida. “Oh yeah,” Reyes says with a smile. “Centre field. I remember that.”
Ordinarily, a triple lacking in any special significance would blend into all the others for the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop—after all, he’s got 111 of them over 11 big-league seasons. But after going without a single three-bagger in 2013, an unhappy first in his career, it’s a reminder of how much last April’s left ankle sprain affected his running once he returned mid-season. Triples are a key part of his game, which is why Reyes freely admits that going without one “bothered me.”
“At the same time,” he continues, “I know my ankle wasn’t 100 percent and I didn’t put the ball in the right spot to get an easy triple. The one time I thought I was going to get one, at home against the Baltimore Orioles (on Sept. 13), Adam Jones threw me out all the way from centre field. Toronto isn’t an easy park to get a triple, but I was disappointed I went home with zero.”
Back at it this spring training, Reyes is optimistic about avoiding a repeat. He insists the ankle is much better after an off-season of rest and special workouts, and the extra gear he was missing last summer seems to have returned, at least in part. He’s running the way he always has, cutting sharp, crisp turns around the bases, zipping around with an ease and comfort he lacked last year. His mindset on the base-paths is back to normal: “Every time I hit the ball in the gap, I’m looking for three bags,” says Reyes. “I decide that I’m going to go to third base after I touch first base. That’s when I know if I have an opportunity, and most of the time I’m going to be successful. I’m not scared to do it, especially with less than two out, it’s better to have people on third base than second base.”
There's no arguing that point, but what is perhaps worthy of debate are the merits of turning Reyes loose on the Rogers Centre's unforgiving turf, even if he's back to full speed. The 66 games he missed last season really hurt the Blue Jays, and he's one of the players they can least afford to lose for an extended period again. While the turf makes him "feel faster, for sure," he also acknowledges that it "is hard on your body for speed guys, that's going to wear you down a little bit."
"You have to find a routine to keep yourself loose, knees, back, hamstrings, everything on your body, and go from there," he continues. "You have to prepare to play, you just can't show up at the ballpark, go hit BP and play the game."
To that end, his lengthy pre-game routine should be a little lighter this year minus the extra ankle work he required after the injury. Typically he arrives at the ballpark around noon, hits the hot tub to get his muscles loose, stretches with a trainer and then hits the weight room for some back exercises. "It's very important that you have your back loose," he explains. "If you do that, everything in your legs is going to be a lot easier."
That sets him up to stretch again with the team before batting practice, and after his turn in the cage, it's back on the field to stretch again before the game.
The extensive routine helped him play 133, 126 and 160 games in the three seasons before he joined the Blue Jays, who need him to be near the higher end of that range to have success this year. Offensively, he'll need to be a catalyst atop the lineup—the way he was in posting a .296/.353/.427 slash line in 93 games—while defensively, he expects to regain some of the range to his left he lost because of his ankle. A left side of the infield with him and Brett Lawrie has the potential to be air-tight, one of many internal gains the Blue Jays can make after an off-season with minimal turnover.
"We have the same team as last year, what's going to be the difference? Staying together as a team and everybody staying (healthy). If we can do that, I think we can win," says Reyes. "You need to compete in this division and as a player you want to compete against the best. We have the best teams in our division, that's good. That's my thinking. I like to play like that."
With his ankle strong again and hitting triples back on the agenda, Reyes believes he's up for the challenge.