TORONTO – Brett Lawrie is off to a slow start at the plate, just 3-for-29 (.103) entering Wednesday night's tilt with the Astros.
Approached to discuss his early season slump, Lawrie obliged but it wasn't long before he got a little help from a friend.
"He'll be fine," Jose Reyes shouted as he walked by the discussion.
The 24-year-old had a solid Grapefruit League, hitting .339/.373/.484 with two home runs. But that's spring training, the quality of pitching varies (Baseball Reference ranked Lawrie's mound opponents an 8.6/10) and the types of pitches that get thrown in certain counts are different; often times a pitcher goes into an appearance looking to work on specific parts of his repertoire.
Eight games in, Lawrie insists he's not pressing.
"It's a long season, man," said Lawrie. "I mean, we've still got 140-plus games so for me to push the panic button right now is no point because it's a long year so stay healthy, just keep going and grinding and getting after it. The main thing is that we're winning so obviously find positivity there and obviously look to do the job again today and find some way to contribute to the team."
The thing is, Lawrie likely is pressing. The fact he doesn't want to talk about it, or admit to it, is fine.
"He's a little mental right now," said hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. "He's sitting on pitches and he's guessing wrong is what's happening. When that happens you start to lose your approach; you want to get in just to try to hit the ball hard and that ends up being a recipe for disaster. He's just pressing right now."
Lawrie and Seitzer convened for an early Wednesday afternoon hitting session in the batting cage. The aim wasn't to go over significant mechanical tweaks but rather pitch recognition, which is sometimes compromised when a hitter struggles and begins to think too much in the batter's box.
It appears to the layman observer that the hitch Lawrie had last year has returned to his swing, which occurs just as he's cocking his bat to bring it through the strike zone.
"He had some of that in spring training too," said Seitzer. "The late is from tension of reacting to fastballs instead of being ready to hit them and then when you do get one, when you're looking for one and you get it, then you try and do too much and that causes more tension."
Manager John Gibbons goes out of his way to praise Lawrie's maturity, noting his third baseman's ability to maintain his composure throughout the early season slump.
"He's come a long way," said Gibbons.
Lawrie knows he can contribute in other areas.
"You've got both sides of the coin you've got to worry about," said Lawrie. "Ultimately, if I can't get it done on offence one day than hopefully I can help the team out on defence. That's kind of how it goes, just try to find a way to contribute."
CECIL TAKING CARE
Brett Cecil was available for the Blue Jays on Wednesday night against the Astros.
He had a 16-pitch, one inning appearance versus Houston on Tuesday and Cecil's been careful since spring training not to overextend his arm.
"Really what it comes down to is how I feel the day after and how much I can go, whether it's just a hitter or a full inning," said Cecil.
Cecil made a career-high 60 appearances in 2013, his first full season as a reliever. He was shut down in mid-September, however, suffering from elbow pain.
"When I throw one day usually there are no problems, no stiffness," said Cecil. "When I throw two days in a row, the next day it will be a little bit sore. Unless it's towards the end of the season, a playoff race or something, that would probably be the only time I'd go three days in a row."
Reliever Neil Wagner is back with the Blue Jays, recalled prior to Wednesday's game against the Astros.
Right-hander Marcus Walden, who didn't get into a game since joining the Jays on Saturday, was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo.
The Blue Jays made no secret that Wagner's springtime demotion was strictly a business move – Wagner had an option left and others didn't.
"Wagner came into his own last year," said manager John Gibbons. "He's a guy that can get some big outs late in the game for you."
With Casey Janssen still on the disabled list with an abdominal strain and Sergio Santos in the closer's role in Janssen's stead, the Jays need another late-inning right-hander to work alongside Steve Delabar.
Wagner fits the mold. With his mid-to-high 90s fastball, the 30-year-old stuck out 33 hitters in 38 innings over 36 appearances for the Blue Jays last season.
Each week, I'll sit down with Toronto Star baseball columnist Richard Griffin and MLB.com's Blue Jays beat reporter Gregor Chisholm for the Baseball Podcast.
We'll discuss the latest news surrounding the ballclub. The aim will be record the podcast each Wednesday but will depend on our respective schedules. We'll keep you posted on Twitter.
Click here for the first edition, recorded the afternoon of Wednesday, April 9. We talk about the early season performance of the starting rotation, hitters running hot and cold through the first week of the season and last week's salary deferral revelations.