Devon Travis runs bases, still a possibility for opening day

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TAMPA, Fla. — As a base hit fell into shallow centre field, Devon Travis took off hard from first base. He sprinted to second, made an aggressive turn towards third, and blew a tire, wiping out on his rear end. He scrambled to his feet and raced back to the bag, but it was too late, as the second baseman was waiting there to tag him out and end the inning. It was perhaps the most encouraging out Travis has ever made.

“Not the right base-running move,” Travis said with a grin. “But that was a good test, coming around second and slipping a little bit and being able to get back up and feel fine. I felt good. I feel really good.”

Playing in a minor-league game Sunday against the New York Yankees, Travis took a big step forward in his recovery from a bone bruise in his right knee, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout, a walk, a flyout and a groundout, while also reaching base on an error. Of course, the results are secondary. What was most important was that Travis ran the bases aggressively at top speed.

He broke hard out of the batter’s box every time he put the ball in play, and he ran especially hard on the error, sprinting down the line and helping force the misplay. He was clearly focused on running hard every chance he got, chugging around the bases on foul balls and inning-ending fly outs.

“That was full speed right there,” Travis said afterwards. “It may not have looked like it, but that’s all I’ve got.”

Also encouraging were the unpredictable plays he faced, like when he skidded along the slick infield dirt while rounding second and wiped out. That tested his knee’s preparedness for the unexpected occurrences that Major League Baseball can bring. Blue Jays trainers can send him around the bases and hit him all the ground balls they want. But they can’t prepare Travis for situations like that. He just has to live them in a game.

Blue Jays head trainer George Poulis was watching from the dugout, and conferenced with Travis as soon as he got off the field after the out.

“That was a great test,” Poulis said. “He’s doing great. He’s had zero problems.”

Poulis was also watching closely when Kevin Pillar, who was also playing in the game, popped up a bunt attempt to his right while Travis was on first. It was unclear whether New York’s first baseman would be able to make a play on the ball or not, which forced Travis to bounce up and down on his feet off the base, ready to explode laterally in either direction. Eventually, the ball was caught, and Travis pivoted back to first.

“That’s why we have guys play these games, for stuff like that. It’s very hard for us to simulate that when we’re having them run bases,” Poulis said. “Devon, he looked great.”

Travis had off-season surgery on the knee to repair cartilage damage, and has been brought along slowly in camp as he continues his rehab. But the second baseman’s schedule has accelerated quickly in the last few days.

Every morning, the Blue Jays have thrown new tests at Travis as they try to assess his readiness for opening day, which is just two weeks away. Travis has now done everything save for play the field in a game, something he’s scheduled to do on the minor-league side of camp either this Tuesday or Thursday, depending on how his knee responds to training this week.

It once seemed very likely that Travis would begin the season on the disabled list as the Blue Jays looked to give him ample time to return to full health. But considering his progress over the last several days, it’s now entirely possible that Travis will be with the Blue Jays in Milwaukee on April 3, ready to start his season along with everyone else.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

“That’s my goal—it’s been my goal from the get-go,” Travis said. “That’s why I got down here so early to get my knee right. It’s still my goal. I see it happening. But some things have got to continue to progress the right way.

“I’ve got to get out there in a big-league game. I’ve go to prove to them I can play the field. I’ve got to prove to them I can play both sides of the ball and wake up the next day feeling good and ready to go again. But here in the near future that should be happening and I look forward to that.”

Pillar, who was using the minor-league game to work on bunting for a base hit, watched Travis’ plate appearances closely, and even filmed the second baseman’s final at-bat on his phone. The pair huddled shortly after to go over the footage.

“There’s a huge timing issue right now,” Pillar said. “But I told him, ‘your swing looks like your swing.’ To me, that’s the biggest sign—if his body’s firing the way that I’ve been accustomed to seeing on film and from the side. So, that’s a good sign. And he looked good running down the line. He was running hard, he was running fast.”

“He’s been grinding for a long time to try to get back and get ready for opening day. If you would’ve asked him and asked our staff maybe a couple weeks ago, that wasn’t something that was realistic. But now that’s something that’s really possible.”

All in all, it was an excellent day of progress for Travis, whose situation will be very interesting to monitor over the next two weeks. With every at-bat, every sprint down the line, and, yes, every wipeout at second base, Travis gets that much closer to starting the season with the Blue Jays.

“It’s very encouraging. And that all goes to everyone on the training staff,” Travis said. “They do a great job. They take great care of us. They care. They listen to what we have to say. The biggest thing is my knee is going to tell me when its ready to go. And it’s starting to tell me it’s getting close, that’s for sure.”

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