DUNEDIN, Florida - Melky Cabrera envisioned the worst-case scenario when he was diagnosed with having a benign tumour in his back.
"I thought he was going to pass away, I was going to die, I was going to leave his kids behind and his family," said Cabrera through third base coach Luis Rivera, translating Spanish to English. "I know one day he's going to die but I wasn't ready to do that yet."
It was a harsh dose of reality for Cabrera not long after turning 29 last August 11. It was a strange time. Finally, Cabrera had a proper diagnosis for the knee tendinitis and quadriceps inflammation that had sent him to the disabled list earlier in the season. But to that point, Cabrera couldn't understand why he'd been rendered relatively immobile on the field.
The tumour, which if left untreated would have continued to grow and could have ended up wrapping itself around Cabrera's spinal cord causing paralysis, even death, was about the size of a walnut at the time it was surgically removed. The scar on Cabrera's back is about five inches long and runs straight down the spinal column.
"I was worried because of the way I was playing and the pain I was feeling in my legs and his back," Cabrera said through Rivera. "I didn't know what was wrong with me until I they decided to check. I found out, my family and myself, it was a tumour. They didn't know if it was benign or cancer and we were real worried."
Once the stiches came out ten days after the surgery, Cabrera immediately began working out. He started slowly, capped at curls with 15 and 20-pound dumbbells.
By December, Cabrera had moved his offseason home to Tampa. Teammate Jose Bautista lives in the area and the two began two-a-day workouts immediately, including cardio and weight training in the mornings and baseball related activities, namely hitting, in the afternoon.
Cabrera is plenty motivated to have a bounce back season. Limited to 88 games last year, he posted a .279/.322/.360 slash line. He was coming off a 50-game suspension in 2012 for performance enhancing drug use. Now in the final year of the $16 million, two-year contract, Cabrera is playing for his next deal while trying to shake a shady past.
In solid physical shape and moving better than he has in more than a year, Cabrera is reunited with his hitting coach from three seasons ago in Kansas City, Kevin Seitzer.
"I'm real happy that he's here," said Cabrera through Rivera. "He's a real good hitting coach. He knows what kind of swing I have and he can work with me better."
NAVARRO CATCHES BUEHRLE
Asked before Friday's game if he could remember catching a pitcher who works as quickly as Mark Buehrle, Dioner Navarro didn't waste any time responding.
"Nobody," he said.
Navarro wouldn't offer a prediction of how things would go, which necessitated a follow up when he left the game after six innings.
"On the positive side I don't have to do conditioning now," joked Navarro. "It was fun. I think he's still trying to build in as spring training goes along. I don't think he was throwing as hard as he can. His mechanics looked fine. The ball was coming out fine. He likes to work fast, that's for sure."
Buehrle threw two innings, allowing a run on two hits. He struck out one and walked one.
"First thing I told him when we met, I said, 'Listen, I don't shake off, so I like the sign down and hope you've got a game plan back there, because I don't really go over one, I don't follow one, so I just kind of go off [the catcher's signs],'" said Buehrle. "That's big for them to know the hitters and know what I like to throw in certain situations. So far, we're just working on some stuff right now and getting his feedback on certain pitches that I'm throwing, so it's good."
Buehrle sat in on a handful of advanced scouting meetings two years ago in Miami, at the request of then-Marlins pitching coach Randy St. Claire, but felt he wasn't benefitting from the information.
He'd prefer if Navarro and pitching coach Pete Walker worked out the plan. He'll just throw the pitches, joking that if things go wrong it leaves the blame on the catcher.
"We take the blame," said Navarro. "Hey, it's been like that for 100 years. When somebody does good, good job. When something goes bad it's the catcher's fault. I've got no shame on that. I take the blame. It's okay with me."
IZTURIS ACCEPTING OF BACK UP ROLE
As long as the regulars stay healthy, Maicer Izturis will find himself back in the role he had with the Angels. He'll play some second base, some shortstop and some third base and be a late-game option off the bench for manager John Gibbons.
"I've been in that situation before in Anaheim with Aybar and Howie Kendrick," said Izturis. "For me, I'm coming in ready to help the team win. I just want to make the playoffs and win that thing. I think we've got everything here. We need to just compete."
A 10-year veteran, Izturis also is serving as a mentor to Ryan Goins, who ended last season as the Jays' second baseman and is expected to have the starting job when camp breaks.
"Just be consistent, play good defense," said Izturis of his advice to Goins. "He's got the same game that I do. Just play defense, move the runner, take some pitches, play for the team. We've got a lot of players with power and speed. That's what I try to tell him to help him understand his game."
Izturis is fully healed following a season-ending ankle sprain late last August. He began running the bases and taking ground balls in November.
LIND'S BEARD GETTING ATTENTION
Adam Lind's goatee is being compared to the beard worn by former professional wrestler Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart.
Shown a photo of Neidhart, Lind laughed and said, "He's got a better tan."
KRATZ DOES COMMERCIALS
Check out these three commercials featuring new Blue Jays catcher Erik Kratz, done last year in Philadelphia for Godshall's Quality Meats.
Some funny stuff.