SARASOTA, Florida - With Brett Lawrie recovering from a strained rib cage muscle and his availability for opening day still in doubt, a healthy Mark DeRosa is ready to step in.
"Healthy" isn't a word the 38-year-old has used to describe himself in recent years. His health, the belief he's recovered from a wrist injury and botched surgery, has been key to a productive spring.
"Knock on wood, I feel like I have some pop back in my bat that I haven't had in the last couple of years," said DeRosa. "I'm more excited about my (batting practice) and I've run in to two balls, actually three, that I've hit pretty good and that's what gets me kind of excited is having the ability, if I do work myself into a hitter's count, where I can get a little bit more aggressive on it."
DeRosa signed late, on January 22, with the Blue Jays. He will be the so-called 25th man, a veteran used sparingly; he'll bring leadership to the clubhouse, paying particular attention to Lawrie. Anything else, including production, is gravy.
Yet, entering Wednesday's game against the Orioles, DeRosa was hitting .462 in Grapefruit League play, his on-base plus slugging percentage a whopping 1.285. If DeRosa has anything left to prove, it's only to himself.
"Thankful that I've been given this opportunity because, to be honest with you, I thought my career was over at the end of last year and I was okay with that," said DeRosa. "To come out here and play well and be able to drive the ball around the park from time to time has been a pleasant surprise for me."
Lawrie strained a muscle in his ribcage with Team Canada during a March 5 World Baseball Classic tune up game against Cincinnati. Best case scenario, Lawrie gets in to a game this weekend. If not, he'll be cutting it close to be ready for the start of the regular season. Manager John Gibbons has tabbed DeRosa should Lawrie not be available.
"Mark's always been a good player; his big thing, he's like McGowan on the pitching side, he's been injury prone," said Gibbons. "He's played a lot of years but he gets banged up, he gets a lot of that freak stuff happen to him. The fact he's out here healthy, we may need him ... He's a professional hitter, he goes up there with a plan."
"I'm also cognizant of the fact that we have some guys who can move around (the field) and help them out," said DeRosa. "I feel like I've had a good camp, I feel good, I'm healthy."
DeRosa injured his wrist in 2009 while playing for the Cardinals. He'd just been acquired by St. Louis from Cleveland; the Cardinals were making a run toward the playoffs. DeRosa didn't feel he could let down his new teammates so he played, unproductively, through the pain.
It was the wrong decision. DeRosa was later diagnosed with a torn tendon sheath – the same injury Jose Bautista suffered last season – on which he had surgery. After a slow start to his 2010 season, by then with the Giants, DeRosa had his wrist re-examined. The doctor deemed the first procedure "a total failure." He underwent a second surgery and has been battling the effects of the injury ever since. As a result, DeRosa's changed his workout regimen.
"At my age, you start getting up there, less is more," said DeRosa. "I honestly didn't pick up a bat until I signed the contract with Toronto and I really, I did that on purpose. I'm a guy that once the new year hits you want to go, go, go but at this age and with the wrist injuries I've had, the more swings I take and the more pounding I put on it the less I get out of it."
DeRosa has played in only 121 games since 2010, 48 last season with Washington. Five years removed from his best season, a 21 home run and .857 OPS campaign with the 2008 Cubs, DeRosa feels he can contribute on the field even if his role is relatively minor.
"It remains to be seen, once the regular season starts, how it plays out," he said. "All I know is the last three-and-a-half years I haven't been able to drive the ball the way I've driven the ball in camp this spring. Even in batting practice, hitting balls out in batting practice, I wasn't doing that since '08, early '09. Maybe it's settled in, maybe the scar tissue has settled where it needs to settle, I don't know.
"I'm trying not to think about it too much."
Jeremy Jeffress struggled in the Blue Jays' 6-5 loss to Baltimore on Wednesday.
Jeffress started and lasted two innings, allowing three runs (three solo home runs) on four hits, walked two, struck out two and had a wild pitch and a hit batsman.
"He scuffled, I mean they whacked him around pretty good," said manager John Gibbons.
Jeffress is a candidate for one of the Blue Jays' available bullpen spots. He's struggled in two consecutive outings, having failed to record an out in facing three batters on Saturday against the Orioles.
"A lot of the guys, our regulars, the guys who will be on the team, they played very well," said Gibbons. We saw some things there with the pitching, we'll just have to consider it all."
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC WINS WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC
Jose Bautista watched from afar as the Dominican Republic won the World Baseball Classic with a 3-0 defeat of Puerto Rico on Tuesday night.
"I'm sure everybody's enjoying it, everybody's having fun," said Bautista. "Everybody was celebrating out last night. I'm sure the game was being shown in a number of different public places and I'm sure it was packed everywhere. It's a big deal and we take a lot of pride in being known for the best baseball in the Caribbean and now the world because of this victory. It's something that not only the baseball players, but our whole country and our culture takes very seriously and takes a lot of pride in."
Bautista, recovering from wrist surgery, wanted to participate in the WBC but was withheld by the Blue Jays. Had the Dominicans suffered an injury during the tournament, Bautista may have been the replacement.
"I wanted to play, that's not in question, and I attempted on multiple occasions to get permission from the club and unfortunately it didn't happen," said Bautista. "It seemed like (the Jays) were open to it for later rounds, but there was no injury so I couldn't get in because of the rules of the tournament, which obviously you have to respect."
Edwin Encarnacion, who had a two-run single in the first inning of the championship game, and Jose Reyes will return to the Blue Jays on Thursday. Moises Sierra and Ricardo Nanita will go to minor league camp.
The Blue Jays visit the Rays in Port Charlotte. Game time is 1:05pm et.
Claudio Vargas will get the start, Ramon Ortiz and Brett Cecil also will pitch.
Ricky Romero will throw five innings in a minor league game at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin. Game time there is also 1:05pm et.