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MacArthur: Some perspective when assessing Brett Lawrie

Scott MacArthur
7/21/2013 11:37:37 AM
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TORONTO - Brett Lawrie pounded fist into glove after his third inning throwing error allowed the eventual winning run to score in Saturday's 4-3 Blue Jays loss to Tampa Bay, a man clearly frustrated about a defensive miscue that cost his club an inning-ending double play.

Perhaps he was too caught up in the moment to hear the smattering of boos coming from a crowd of more than 40,000 fans at Rogers Centre.

These are fans who, like Lawrie and the rest of his teammates, are disappointed by the Jays' 45-51 record. They are tired of the miscues, fed up with the spotty hitting and the inconsistent pitching and the shoddy defence.

Enough is enough and someone must hear about it. On Saturday, it was Lawrie.

Fair game. Fans pay good money to attend and clearly many bought ticket packages months ago figuring they'd be watching a Jays-Rays series with much on the line – for both teams. Instead, the home club is teetering on the abyss while the low-budget folks from Tampa Bay soar into the second half.

Yes, Lawrie's antics can be tiresome. The death stare he shot Adam Lind and Luis Rivera on May 26, his helmet-tossing episode after being rung up a year earlier. Other instances, too. It adds up.

But maybe, just maybe, it is worth examining this 23-year-old's season. A dash of context mixed with sober perspective never hurt anyone. Oh, and let's pause for a moment of emphasis on the age: 23.

Back to the beginning.

Lawrie was injured on March 5. He strained his oblique playing for Team Canada in a World Baseball Classic tune-up game against the Cincinnati Reds. His side bothered him when he swung and felt even worse as he moved side-to-side at third base. He made the decision, the mature decision, based on his experience with a similar injury last season to remove himself from the game.

It's a good thing he did. Had Lawrie tried to battle through the pain, what became a five-week absence likely would have been more.

Following a setback, which delayed his return, Lawrie began a rehabilitation assignment roughly around the same time the Blue Jays departed on the first road trip of the season – to Detroit and Kansas City.

Except the third baseman wasn't playing third base. He was playing second base. He did so for two games at Single-A Dunedin. It's a position Lawrie hadn't played since 2010, when he appeared in 131 games there for Milwaukee's Double-A affiliate in Huntsville.

Okay, fine, the Blue Jays were considering a position switch. No problem, right?

Except Jose Reyes rolled his ankle on April 12 against the Royals and Munenori Kawasaki was called up and there appeared to be – correction, there was – a huge void on the left side of the Jays' infield.

So Lawrie gets recalled in time to play the White Sox on April 16. It's far sooner than planned and both general manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons have admitted as much.

Lawrie, robbed of proper spring training by his own injury and then robbed by Reyes' injury of appropriate minor-league rehab time, struggled badly at the plate. When he twisted his ankle, not a dissimilar injury to Reyes', on May 27, Lawrie's slash line was .209/.268/.374.

Lawrie hurt his ankle sliding into second base. Initially, he attempted to stay in that game against the Braves, removing himself pitches later when his scamper to third on a ground ball quickly became a hobbling limp.

Post-game, he addressed the media and speculated he could play the next day. There was no reason to disbelieve Lawrie. He was walking normally.

Then, as he slept, the ankle swelled. A day turned into days turned into weeks. There wasn't so much a setback as there was a stalling of the healing process. Lawrie was placed in a walking boot.

Five more weeks, this time all in-season, down the tubes.

Eventually, in late June, another minor-league rehabilitation assignment began. This time, Lawrie wouldn't be rushed. They said he'd get his at-bats and he did. He'd get his reps at third base. He'd return comfortable, his timing down, ready to contribute in the second half.

But after seven of those minor-league games, featuring Single-A stops in Dunedin and Lansing and a three-night Double-A appearance with New Hampshire, Lawrie went to play with the Triple-A Bisons.

He was informed, upon his arrival in Buffalo, that he would not be playing third base. Instead, he would be playing second.

Three games later, Lawrie was activated from the disabled list and was starting for the Blue Jays – at second base – in a key divisional game in Baltimore.

Lawrie says he "just needs his reps" at second base. He's correct and he's getting them, now, at the major league level and at a major league pace.

He hasn't forgotten how to play the position. He does, however, need time to remind himself how. Oh, and while he's doing that, he's also working on his offensive approach, which is an ongoing process as hitting coach Chad Mottola tries to slow down all the moving parts to his swing.

All of this to say Lawrie isn't perfect. If, for a moment, you thought he was, don't blame him. Blame the marketing campaign.

Is there room for improvement in his game? Yes.

Does Lawrie have some maturing to do? Yes.

Is he, on occasion, too intense for his own good? Maybe, but at least he doesn't need to be kicked in the rear to get himself amped up.

Can his shortcomings be corrected or at least improved upon? Yes.

Do you give up on a player with Lawrie's type of athletic gifts? No.

Can you boo him? Yes. Should you boo him? Up to you. But if you do, do so with perspective.

After all, Lawrie's only 23.

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