DUNEDIN, Fla. – During a follow-up consultation the day after Dr. Keith Meister removed a bone spur from his right elbow, George Springer sat down with his surgeon and watched video of the procedure.
The Toronto Blue Jays outfielder isn’t necessarily big on knowing all the science behind how the body functions. But after grinding through the 2022 season with the irksome osteophyte, “it was actually cool to see what happened, understand and be like, yeah, well, that makes sense.”
“He showed me what he did so I had an understanding of what I was feeling and what was there,” Springer said Tuesday after a day of light workouts at Toronto Blue Jays spring training. “I’m happy that it’s behind me and I have a normal arm.”
He drove that point home multiple times during a 12-minute chat with media, repeating that “it feels good to feel good,” a clear, if unstated, contrast to his state of being last year.
Though he enjoyed a strong start that led to his selection as an all-star, by June the bone spur had become a problem in need of management. On several occasions he was in obvious pain on the field, grimacing after a big swing or following a strenuous defensive play, and by August he needed a timeout on the injured list to finish out the campaign.
“I learned fast that it’s really hard to play baseball with a bad arm,” he quipped.
Yet Springer still played in 133 games, batting .267/.342/.472 while producing 4.2 fWAR, an indication of just how impactful a player he is.
“To his credit, he wanted to grind it out, understood where we were in the standings and things like that,” said manager John Schneider. “That’s the kind of guy he is, the kind of teammate he is. Hopefully this year he can avoid that and just be the dynamic player that he is when healthy.”
Right now, Springer insists he’s there following a slow-and-steady recovery from the surgery, which came on the heels of the concussion he suffered during the Blue Jays’ Game 2 collapse against the Seattle Mariners in the wild-card round.
The 33-year-old was carted off the field after he and Bo Bichette collided in short centre while pursuing J.P. Crawford’s blooper, spraining his left shoulder in the process, as well. Following the 10-9 loss, Springer still managed to address his teammates, urging them “to learn and to grow and to understand that it sucks to have these talks, the goodbye talks.”
“You always want to have the goodbye talk and hug a guy after a big win,” Springer continued. “Unfortunately for us, that didn’t happen. It doesn’t matter whichever way it happened – it happened. … We set out to accomplish a goal and we did that to some degree, but we didn’t accomplish the goal that we ultimately wanted to do, and that’s to win. It puts us in a better state of mind for this year to know that every little thing we do, it counts, and to take that into this year to learn from last year and we’ll see what the next 162 brings.”
What the next 162 brings for Springer will, in part, be a shift to right field following the swapping out of Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., with elite defenders Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho.
While in theory, the Blue Jays believe that will ease the wear and tear on his body, Springer is less convinced, “because of the way I play.”
“I don’t necessarily play a very slow style of game,” he added. “I play aggressive. I like to run. I play fast. (Right field) is just different.”
Either way, he’ll take the field free of the uncertainty about his elbow that was a constant last year no matter what he was doing, be it chasing down a fly ball, standing in the batter’s box or trying to get some work done behind the scenes.
“There would be days where it would go from a one to a 10 and there’d be days where it was a 10 to a one. You just didn’t know and that was half the battle,” Springer explained, adding that it’s a relief “that I can just go out there and play and not really have to think about anything or limit myself in the cage that day because I don’t want to flare something up or whatever the case. I’m extremely happy, extremely lucky to be here. I feel good.”
As do the Blue Jays, who for the time being don’t have to work through the same juggling act with him that the elbow necessitated last year.
Schneider joked about a litany of late lineups as on certain days Springer might have started out in centre and ended up at DH or on the bench, while on others the reverse played out.
“You’d have a Plan B and sometimes a Plan C when you’re making lineups either that day or a couple of days ahead,” said Schneider. “It’s tough for those guys to be ready but not play. And it’s hard for George to say, OK, how am I going to get prepared and go out and try to perform at a really high level? It was definitely a delicate balance and guys understood it. Guys that weren’t in there when George was, understood it because of what he means to our team. And man, to his credit, he was giving it everything that he had every day.”
The Blue Jays already knew they could count on that. But now that Springer is free of the bone spur and carrying a lighter load in the outfield, they believe they can count on even more from him, too.