TORONTO – While assessing Brett Lawrie's season up to this point, it's important to consider that the 24-year-old is doing something for his team that few other players, if any, could.
One day, he's providing the Blue Jays with Gold Glove-calibre defence at third base. The next, he's more than holding his own at second base. All the while, Lawrie's posting respectable offensive numbers overall and is providing an elite bat in clutch situations.
It would be ignorant to look at Lawrie's slash line of .224/.275/.412 entering Sunday's action and conclude he's having a down year. Consider that Lawrie already has eight home runs, going deep in 4.8 per cent of his at-bats. That's a marked uptick from last year (2.7 per cent) and 2012 (2.2 per cent).
Lawrie also has 26 RBI, which ranks him third on the club behind Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. His best work has been done with runners in scoring position (RISP). With runners on second, third or both, Lawrie is hitting .366/.400/.732 (1.132 OPS) with four home runs and 21 RBI.
All of it, as a reminder, while playing a third base/second base hybrid. Not even Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays does that anymore. When Zobrist hasn't been hurt this season, he's predominantly been a second baseman.
“I don't see any player in the league doing it, unless you're a utility player, which he's not,” infield coach Luis Rivera told TSN.ca. “It's tough because he's very good at third base. He's one of the best third baseman and then you have to move to second base. He was at second base before, he's learning the position again and there are a few things he needs to continue to work on and he can be better than what he is right now.”
Lawrie goes about his business, taking ground balls during batting practice at the position he's scheduled to play that day. That, in and of itself, would be overwhelming for some players. Yet it isn't for a player, still young, who earned himself a reputation for being hot-headed and immature, two labels which should be dissipating by the day.
“It's tough knowing one day you're here, the next day you're there,” said Rivera. “Mentally, you have to prepare. You have to be mentally strong.”
The terms “Lawrie” and “mentally strong” didn't used to be used in the same sentence, thanks in large part to incidents like the infamous helmet-throwing incident in May, 2012 and his stare down of Rivera and Adam Lind when Lind didn't score on a Lawrie fly ball 52 Sundays ago.
Considering what he's being asked to do and considering the success with which he's accomplishing the request, maybe it's time to give Lawrie some credit.
“There's a lot going on, man,” said Lawrie. “There's always a lot going on, especially now just from having to play all over the park and just I've got a lot of stuff going on, but for the most part I'm just trying not to think about it too much even though there is a lot going on.”
He's a third baseman, he'll tell you that repeatedly and Lawrie's proud he's made himself an elite third bagger at the big league level, which is a testament to his athleticism.
He's all-in on the move because it makes the platoon splits work for manager John Gibbons. Lawrie is at third and Steve Tolleson at second when Toronto faces a left-handed pitcher; Lawrie's at second and Juan Francisco at third base when the Blue Jays take on a right-hander.
“It's just something that I have to do for the team and it's what makes the team a little bit better, so for myself, it's just what I have to do in order to make this ball club better and to, obviously, win ballgames,” said Lawrie.
“The most important thing is that he wanted to do it,” said Rivera. “So if he's willing to do it, he's going to be fine, but when you fight yourself not to go one place and then play another position, play third base, ‘I don't want to play second base,' that's going to make it real hard on him, on the coaches and on the team. Right now, he's willing to do both, so that's the easy part.”
After Sunday's series-sweeping 3-1 win over Oakland, the Jays' sixth in a row, 11th in 13 games and 16th out of 21, getting a buy-in from Lawrie is a much easier task.
“It's just fun,” said Lawrie. “It's just good to be competing. That's the biggest thing is just being able to go out everyday and compete and, obviously, have a chance to win a ballgame every single day. That's the biggest thing, but just competing on an everyday basis as a group is obviously a lot of fun.”