ANAHEIM – Erik Kratz is back with the Blue Jays for a third time, recalled on Wednesday when the club placed outfielder Cole Gillespie on the disabled list with an abdominal strain.
Now 34 years old and with approximately a year-and-a-half of major league service time under his belt, Kratz is veteran enough to understand the ins and outs of baseball's business.
"At different points in your career, you figure out how to deal with certain things and you figure out that baseball moves need to be made," said Kratz. "But I'll be honest. I was disappointed to be down there. I wasn't happy-go-lucky but I wasn't going to allow that to affect my play."
Kratz worked with R.A. Dickey throughout spring training, catching each of his Grapefruit League appearances in an attempt to become comfortable receiving the knuckleball. He made sense as the second catcher behind Dioner Navarro, a right-handed bat with some pop.
He lost out to Josh Thole, Dickey's personal catcher dating back to their days in New York. Kratz acknowledged his disappointment.
"The first time I got sent down this year, I let it affect my play," said Kratz.
Manager John Gibbons is a vocal supporter of Kratz's. The catcher's most recent option to Buffalo, on June 23, wasn't a reflection of his performance. The Jays had just lost Brett Lawrie to a fractured finger and Jose Bautista to hamstring tightness. Carrying three catchers on the roster was no longer viable.
He followed his teammates' struggles from a distance, hitting .405 for the Bisons dating back to June 29, and wished he could help.
"It was frustrating knowing I could be up here helping the team," said Kratz. "Everybody thinks they should be up here but when you get sent down, it's all about how you respond mentally so that when they do call you back up, you're ready to play."
Kratz describes a positive attitude in Buffalo. Like any Triple-A club, it's mixed with young hopefuls who've tasted the big leagues, Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar come to mind, and veterans like Dan Johnson, who are hoping for another opportunity.
"If your attitude in Triple-A is 'I shouldn't be here,' well, take a number," That's something that can happen a lot in Triple A. That mentality can infect a clubhouse, that mentality of 'I should be up there.' Oh, really? Should you really? How good did you do the last time up there? If you were 10-for-your-last-10, I'm sure they wouldn't have sent you down."
Offence Coming Around?
Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer is seeing progress. After his charges were held to four runs in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics, Seitzer is hopeful the Jays' bats have turned a corner in Anaheim, reflected in a four-run, 14-hit performance on Tuesday evening.
"I felt like our at-bats the first night here were better too and then (Tuesday) night they were really, really good," said Seitzer. "I mean we played a very solid, well-rounded game of baseball. Offence, defence, pitching, the whole deal came together (Tuesday) night."
"The message that I really tried to drive home in our advanced meeting is we've got to focus on getting our singles," said Seitzer. "That's what got us going in May was trying to single teams to death and stay in the middle of the field and take what the pitcher gives you and try and beat shifts and have team at-bats and really just focus on getting our base hits."
Jays Miss Lawrie
Anyone who doubted Brett Lawrie's importance to the Blue Jays' lineup has been silenced by his absence.
The club misses his gold-glove caliber third base and his ability to move to second base seamlessly, to say nothing of his bat behind the middle of the order. Lawrie's hit a career-high 12 home runs and was slugging .419 at the time of his injury.
With Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion both on the disabled list and no suitable replacements to be found, the established players who remain in the lineup are pressing and it's part of the reason the offence is slumping.
"I think that's been a big part of it right there," said hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. "With Brett Lawrie's intensity and passion and the energy that he brings not only to the lineup but to the dugout and the defence throughout the game, you know, we lost that. That was a big hit for us just from an energy standpoint. The guy plays with more heart or passion probably than anyone I've ever been around."
Lawrie suffered a fractured right index finger when he was hit by a Johnny Cueto pitch on June 22 in Cincinnati. His injury requires a healing period of three to six weeks.