CLEARWATER, Fla. — Devon Travis worked the count to 3-1, got a fastball he liked, lined it into centre field, then walked slowly back to the dugout and started apologizing to his teammates.
Usually, the 26-year-old second baseman would charge out of the batter’s box, round first, and think about stretching the base hit into a double. But Tuesday wasn’t a usual day.
Travis is rehabbing a bone bruise in his right knee and was playing with Blue Jays minor leaguers on a backfield at the Philadelphia Phillies’ complex in Clearwater. It was his first appearance of spring and Travis was under strict orders to hit and hit only. He was not to run no matter how far the ball went.
“That was the deal,” Travis said. “It was honestly so weird. I came back in and apologized to all the guys because that doesn’t feel right. I don’t want anybody to think I’m doing that because I don’t want to run. That’s a really, really weird feeling.”
The well-struck liner was Travis’ lone hit on the day as he struck out and hit a pair of fly balls in his other three at-bats. But, truly, the results are secondary to the fact Travis was back in a game after months of long, arduous rehab on his knee. Travis had been taking regular batting practice for quite some time now, but nothing compares to a live arm.
“You can hit BP and hit off the tee and hit off the machine and stand in for a bullpen,” Travis said, “but there’s nothing like stepping into that box and the umpire saying ‘play ball.’ There’s no feeling like that. I’m just so excited to get back out there and do what I do.
“The biggest thing is timing—getting that timing back. Feeling comfortable in the box. My biggest thing is just to compete. That’s the best part of this game.”
Meanwhile, about 50 metres away on an adjacent backfield diamond, Josh Donaldson was getting into his first spring game as well, hitting and not running for a separate team of Blue Jays minor leaguers.
Recovering from a strained right calf he suffered early in camp, Donaldson went 0-for-4, hitting two long fly balls and striking out twice. Again, the results couldn’t mean less.
“I’m just getting some work in—just seeing some pitches,” Donaldson said. “It’s nice to see some change of speeds. You can only do so much with a live arm from batting practice. But I felt pretty good overall. Swung and missed a couple times. But I felt like I was pretty close to some pitches. That was a good first day.”
Both players clearly went up to the plate with a patient approach, looking to see as many pitches in their at-bats as they could. They each saw a variety of Phillies minor-league arms, who were no doubt excited to test themselves against a pair of established big leaguers. Although there had to be some nerves as well. At one point, a Phillies pitcher got very deliberate on the mound, to the point that Donaldson had to call time and step out of the box. From somewhere in the crowd, a chirp was thrown: “What are you worried about? It’s only Josh.”
Donaldson would be playing today if this were the regular season, but seeing as the Blue Jays have time on their hands before opening day they’re taking full advantage of it to allow the 2015 AL MVP to fully heal. Donaldson did some running Tuesday morning to test the calf and said he’ll get back at it on Wednesday, a full off-day for the team.
“I feel like today I was able to move at a faster speed when I was running,” Donaldson said. “I’ll do some things tomorrow on the off-day and go from there.”
Travis’ status is worth monitoring more closely, as Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has publicly ruminated about whether his second baseman may require a brief DL stint at the beginning of the season to allow his knee to fully recover.
As far as Travis is concerned, that isn’t a possibility he’ll allow to enter his consciousness. If it happens, he’ll deal with it at the time. But for now, he’s working as if he’ll be in the lineup on opening day.
“I know I’ve got to be healthy; this team needs me healthy. Going out there when I’m not healthy isn’t the goal,” Travis said. “My goal is 100 per cent opening day. That’s what I’m fighting for. That’s what I’ve been working so hard for. However, I’m not the one who’s fully in control. So, I’m just going to keep trusting the process and take it day by day.”
The Blue Jays don’t tell Travis much, assessing and evaluating his progress every morning before giving him his tasks for the next several hours. Some days he gets to do more, some days less.
It can be tough to gauge the true improvement of a bone bruise, which is a very difficult injury to fully recover from. Travis has woken up some mornings feeling like he’s made great strides, and on others he’s felt like he’s suffered a setback.
As you can imagine, it’s a frustrating experience. But Tuesday was a very big step for Travis, who has been working diligently with the Blue Jays’ high performance department to return to full health.
“You’ve got to get in there, you’ve got to put your work in,” Travis said. “Mentally, more so than anything, it’s exhausting. But we have a great training staff; we have a great rehab staff. They care so much about the players. They’ve dedicated a ton of time to me. So, the least I can do is show up every day and give it my all.
“I’m excited for Thursday already. I don’t know what it is I’m going to do. But I can’t wait to find out.”