It is a make or break year for Adam Lind – the final year of a multiyear contract and a chance to end three seasons of regression to a platoon player, while hitting in the middle of a lineup that has under-gone a startling overhaul.
Tired of lingering back pain that goes back to all the extra work he put into becoming a first baseman, Lind enmeshed himself in yoga during the off-season to strengthen his core. But that won't help stop Lind from tying himself in knots against left-handed pitching, and while the presence of switch-hitters Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis makes this lineup longer, the true dream scenario for the Blue Jays is Lind regaining his status as an everyday hitter. Ideally, he's the DH and spells Edwin Encarnacion at first base.
Lind was at first base on Saturday as the Blue Jays opened the Grapefruit League with a 10-3 win over the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Lind went 2-for-2 against right-handed starter Anibal Sanchez and 275-pound right-hander Bruce Rondon, a 22-year-old blazing arm whom Tigers manager Jim Leyland envisions as being his closer.
Lind doubled against Rondon in the fifth inning with one out, moving Brett Lawrie to third base, before J.P. Arencibia and Josh Thole struck out.
Lind singled up the middle and had a sacrifice fly but knows his spring training is all about lefties – especially since he never seemed to have the trust of manager John Gibbons in Gibbons' first stint with the team. But he should have an ally in hitting coach Chad Mottola, who worked with him at Triple-A Las Vegas in 2012.
"We really haven't done anything yet," Lind said when asked about his approach to lefties this spring. "I know the important thing will be to keep my rhythm and stay slow and stay composed. It's something we started doing in Vegas; it helps control my swing, and swinging hard sometimes made the pitches appear better than they actually are."
It was a typical game for early in the Grapefruit League, with most of the drama involving players with no chance of making the Major League roster.
Lance Zawadzki hit a grand-slam; Ryan Goins – who caught manager John Gibbons eyes in drills this week enough that he earned an unsolicited name drop – slugged a three-run home run and ranged far to his left for a ground ball from the shortstop position; Mike McCoy and Ryan Langerhans collided on a fly ball to right. McCoy stayed down before exiting with a quadriceps contusion and Langerhans sustained a knee injury.
In and around all that, Brandon Morrow used 23 pitches – none of them sliders, which he won't incorporate into his routine until later in the spring – in an inning's work, giving up a two-run home run to Prince Fielder on a 3-2 fastball that he wouldn't throw during a regular season game; and Moises Sierra ran into the final out of the second inning at third base, costing the Blue Jays and Lind a run.
The Blue Jays also made a trade, acquiring right-handed reliever Michael Schwimer from the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league baseman Art Douglas. Schwimer has recorded 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 47 Major League games after posting 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors.
Schwimmer, who still has options left and thus will not have to clear waivers to be sent down to the minors, will likely end-up in AAA Buffalo.
In truth, it was the appearance of Rondon that was the most significant part of this first game.
The Tigers are the defending American League champions and they are in dangerous territory, here: turning the ninth inning over to a rookie with 28 saves at three different levels within the organization. Leyland put him in against the meat of the order, something that will happen often this spring.
What won't happen are daily updates from the skipper.
"It's too early for it to be a big story yet, one way or another," Leyland said before the game. There's a whole lot of that going on in Florida right now. If Lind has another day like this one against lefties, we'll have something.