DUNEDIN, Fla. — Mark DeRosa used to be a really good hitter.
Given the opportunity to play full-time, with the Rangers in 2006, DeRosa hit .291/.368/.453 over the next three seasons and started 2009 hitting .270/.342/.457 before the Cubs traded him to St. Louis and he immediately injured his wrist.
DeRosa played out the season in ’09 with the same injury that kept Jose Bautista out of the lineup for the second half of 2012, and he hasn’t been the same hitter since. A botched wrist surgery followed, then another to repair the first one and DeRosa has spent the last three and a half years as a different guy.
But this spring, things have changed.
"I felt like this year, and I don’t know why this is and knock on wood, but I feel like I have some pop back in my bat that I haven’t had in the last couple years." DeRosa said after going 1-for-2 with a double that short-hopped the left-field wall in Tuesday’s win over Houston. "I’m more excited about my batting practices and the fact that I’ve run into three balls that I’ve hit pretty good. That’s what gets me kind of excited, having the ability that if I do work myself into a hitter’s count I can get a little more aggressive on it instead of the last couple of years trying to just stay within myself and get the base hits and try and flip balls to right field. I feel like as of right now, I can drive the ball and be effective."
It was for that reason that DeRosa reacted so strongly when he was hit on the left forearm by a Jordan Lyles pitch in the third inning. DeRosa’s anger and frustration was rather audible to the crowd of 4,705 at the FAES as he stalked up the first base line.
"It was 0-2, he shook a couple times," DeRosa explained, "I kind of figured he was going to try to come in, and he misses up there. I’ve had so many problems with that, it’s hindered my career the last three or four years. I’m playing good, having fun with the guys, I didn’t want something silly to put me out for a while."
But he emerged from the trainers’ room bare-armed. No bandage, no ice, no wrap, no nothing. "I feel fine. It got me in the forearm, everything feels fine."
DeRosa’s offensive resurgence is something he doesn’t want to think too much about. He’s cut down on his batting practice time, never going out for early work, shutting it down in the cage when he feels he needs to — he didn’t even pick up a bat this off-season until January, and it seems to be working. He’s hitting .462/.516/.769 in 31 plate appearances so far this spring.
The Blue Jays might need DeRosa more than they’d planned. Manager John Gibbons said Tuesday that if Brett Lawrie can’t get into a Grapefruit League game by the weekend — and they do expect him to be able to — he might have to start the season on the disabled list. If that happens, DeRosa will get the starts at third.
Being on the field as a starter on Opening Day is one of the last places DeRosa thought he would be even three months ago.
"To be honest with you, I thought my career was over at the end of last year and I was okay with that," DeRosa continued. "To come out here and play well and be able to drive the ball around the park from time to time has been a real — I don’t want to say surprise for me — but a pleasant surprise for me."
And yet, he’s taking absolutely nothing for granted.
"It remains to be seen once the regular season starts how it plays out," DeRosa said. "All I know is that the last 3 ½ years I haven’t been able to drive the ball the way I’ve driven the ball in camp this spring. Even in batting practice, hitting balls out in batting practice, I wasn’t doing that since ’08, early ’09. Maybe it’s settled in, maybe the scar tissue has settled where it needs to settle, I don’t know. I’m just trying not to really think about it too much and just show up every day and have good at-bats. I feel good, it definitely feels a lot different than it has felt."
News and Notes:
– Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson all pitched on Tuesday. Buehrle threw four innings in the win over Houston while Johnson (four innings) and Dickey (two innings) each worked in a minor-league game against the Tampa Yankees. It was Buehrle’s regular day to pitch, while Johnson was supposed to pitch in a minor-league game on Wednesday, but was pushed back a day because that minor-league game will start at 9:30 a.m. and the Blue Jays didn’t want him working that early. Dickey’s outing was so short because it was a bullpen day for him, but he prefers to work to hitters so he hitched a ride on the bus to Tampa.
– Henry Blanco caught Dickey, and had three passed balls — two of them on swinging strikes — because the knuckler was moving so well. Dickey praised Blanco afterwards, saying "his set-up, the way he receives, he’s just such a pro’s pro."
Dickey took Blanco off the hook for the passed balls because Blanco hadn’t caught him in a couple of years and his knuckleball has evolved since then.
– The Blue Jays have decided to tweak Ricky Romero’s mechanics slightly, given his struggles last year and this spring. Pitching coach Pete Walker says that over the last couple of years there has been a gradual change in Romero’s initial break and his stride that is causing his hips to not be square to the plate when he delivers the ball. Romero says it’s a little bit about not throwing across his body as much, but also about trying to "get out front with your hand and try to finish everything, that kind of stuff, and ride your back side."
Romero has had no trouble with the new mechanics in the bullpen, but once hitters step in and the adrenaline starts pumping, he’s been falling back into his old habits. He’ll start a minor-league game on Thursday.
– Walker is hopeful that Casey Janssen could pitch in a Grapefruit League game as early as Friday. The Blue Jays’ closer has been slowly rehabbing from off-season shoulder surgery and has yet to appear in a real fake game. He’s scheduled to pitch an inning in a minor-league game on Wednesday. Walker would like to see Janssen advance to the point where he can throw on consecutive days and recover well before pronouncing him fit, but Gibbons doesn’t necessarily see that as a requirement.
– Dustin McGowan will also be pitching in Wednesday’s minor-league game, though there’s no timetable set for his return.