Saunders lauds Blue Jays’ altered approach to health of players

Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders is congratulated on his three-run homer against the Phillies last Saturday. (Frank Gunn/CP)

One of the recipes for the Toronto Blue Jays’ success last season was their ability to stay healthy for the most part and avoid crippling injuries. While a repeat of that may seem unlikely, the club’s new management is doing its best to try.

Over the course of the off-season president Mark Shapiro was busy adding to the Blue Jays’ front office and making departmental changes that included hiring the team’s first-ever director of high performance, Angus Mugford.

With spring training underway, those changes are now reverberating with players and Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders says you can count him as someone who likes what he sees in the organization’s new approach to the health of players.

“They’ve basically hired an entire team,” said Saunders, who was a guest on Dean Blundell and Co. Wednesday morning on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “That team consists of strength coaches, obviously our trainers – the same as years past – and they’ve also brought on new people.”

Saunders says the staff is placing a heavy emphasis on sports science.


Listen to Michael Saunders on Dean Blundell and Co.

“More to get down and dirty with the scientific side of the human body and how it moves,” he said. “We have a fantastic team of people pushing us in the right direction and really opening our eyes to (learn) more about movement and correctional movement.

“Ultimately, we want to wake up feeling like babies,” he added. “It’s a long season and your body obviously gets stiff and sore.”

If there’s one Blue Jay who knows about feeling sore, it’s Saunders. The native of Victoria, B.C., missed all but nine games last season due to a torn meniscus and ensuing bone bruise in his left knee.

He joined pitcher Marcus Stroman, who tore his left ACL in spring training, and second baseman Devon Travis, whose season was cut short because of shoulder issues, as key Blue Jays who missed giant portions of the 2015 campaign.

So far this spring though, Saunders says he’s fully healthy and his performance is proving so. The 29-year-old, who’s being considered for the leadoff spot in the Blue Jays’ lineup, has already clubbed three home runs to go along with eight RBIs over five Grapefruit League games.

While he didn’t directly credit the high-performance team with his early success, Saunders says he’s seen results in his body.

“We’re looking at ways now through science and nutrition and everything else to maximize how our body moves, making sure everything is in sync. It’s a fantastic program. It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before.

“I’ve been doing it for a couple of weeks now and I feel great.”

Saunders said that the Blue Jays have focused on health and nutrition in the past, but “we’re taking it to the next step now.”

He says players currently have nutrition and weight-lifting programs built specifically to address their needs, and are guided every step of the way by a mini army of staff.

“There’s 25 (players) during the season, and you add in however many injuries there are and there are a lot of different people going through (the clubhouse) with a lot of different needs,” said Saunders. “(The organization has) basically brought in a lot more people to stay on top of (the players).

“We don’t have one guy patrolling 25 guys now, it’s an entire team.”