TORONTO – It didn't happen right away, this positive working relationship between centerfielder Colby Rasmus and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. It wasn't that the two men were at odds. It's just, sometimes, these things take time.
It's especially true with a guy like Rasmus. He's taken all kinds of advice through the years on how to be a better hitter and how to be a better player and sometimes too much information rattles around in his brain.
"We've crossed some humps for sure," said Rasmus. "Just getting to know each other better; him getting to know me a little better."
It was a conversation in Kansas City that proved the turning point. Rasmus was scuffling, his batting average hovering around the so-called Mendoza Line (.200). He'd been trying things his way. Noticeable details, like how he would hold his hands out over the plate when he came set in his batting stance. There were less noticeable things, like his approach to particular pitchers, which also needed tweaking.
Seitzer approached Rasmus. The coach asked his 27-year-old pupil to do it his way for one week. The hands came in a bit, the bat rested still on Rasmus' shoulders to launch a more even swing through the strike zone and the results were immediate.
Entering Sunday's play, Rasmus had at least one hit in each of the nine games he'd played in May. He was tied with Jose Bautista for the team lead with nine home runs.
"I was probably more surprised than what he was that he was able to do it so quick and he did it immediately," said Seitzer. "It was amazing how he just went from a straight pull guy to having a willingness to go back through the middle of the field."
For his entire career, Rasmus has been considered a dead pull hitter. Seitzer, with whom manager John Gibbons became familiar when the two served on Trey Hillman's coaching staff in Kansas City, was brought in to change the Blue Jays' all-or-nothing offensive approach. The hitters would use all fields under his tutelage and get away from their pull-happiness. Seitzer would like to clarify.
"I said, 'I don't care where the ball goes. What I care about is your approach,'" said Seitzer. "The quicker your hands, the better your swing, the more balls you're going to catch early and you're going to pull them but it's the approach that allows for better recognition and the ability to repeat your swing path to where you've got a chance on balls that are cutting and sinking and the change of speeds."
The hitting coach also plays the role of part-time psychologist. Different guys need different types of help. Rasmus doesn't need the proverbial kick in the rear. His issue never been work ethic; if anything, he's often worked too hard to the point of physical and mental fatigue.
"Keep it light," said Rasmus of what he needs from Seitzer. "I guess make the game less than what it really is and I think he's learned that about me, that I don't need a lot of poking and prodding to give me a lot of energy out there because I like to compete, I like to play, I like to do good and I think he's starting to learn that about me. He's been just kind of cutting up with me and trying to keep it light and we laugh. I think if I'm laughing, it's a good thing."
Rasmus' slash line had climbed to .234/.279/.516 before Sunday's action. The on-base plus slugging is closing in on .800, moving toward the numbers of his two best seasons (.859 in 2010; .840 in 2013). His career on-base percentage of .315 suggests that statistic will improve as games pass by.
The strikeout rate remains high, almost 33 per cent after Sunday, but Seitzer thinks Rasmus will end up cutting down on the whiffs with his new approach.
"I feel like he's putting balls in play and fouling off more pitches that he would have swung through the first part of the season," said Seitzer. "That's an encouraging sign for me."
Rasmus admits to being too pumped up after hitting a grand slam in Pittsburgh. He's still finding an even keel, having to remind himself that each at-bat isn't life and death.
Seitzer has met a student he's better learning to understand as time rolls on.
"I think Colby's very quiet, he's a very private person and what I've learned about him is he's probably one of the most genuinely nice, kind, sincere, honest people that I've ever been around," said Seitzer. "I told him he has an absolutely beautiful heart inside and I can see it. I see it everyday even when he's got a scowl on his face because he's either in his zone or a little frustrated."
The Blue Jays activated closer Casey Janssen from the disabled list in time for Sunday afternoon's game with the Angels.
Janssen strained his left oblique muscle on March 28 in Montreal. He felt a tweak during a warm up pitch, thought nothing of it and threw a scoreless inning against the New York Mets.
He made three appearances for Double-A New Hampshire on a rehab assignment that began on Monday and concluded on Saturday.
"In my last outing I told myself I was going to step on it a little bit more and get some more velocity and I did that," said Janssen. "Not that velocity is anything really but I know that the difference between throwing in a Double-A game and a big league game you're going to go through those adrenaline rushes where you're going to throw harder based on actual adrenaline and I wanted my arm to withstand it."
Toronto's bullpen entered play on Sunday with the fourth-worst ERA in baseball (4.77). Its 62 walks rank third-most in baseball.
The Jays are hoping Janssen's return settles down the relief corps as pitchers resume roles to which they're more accustomed.
"We had a nice bullpen last year," said Janssen. "We were able to pass the baton pretty well in the certain inning that they had and if we can back to that and start putting up some zeroes I think that would help everybody."
"I just think it brings a bit of a comfort down there for those guys having Casey back," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "Obviously our staff, knowing that he's down there and he's a viable option to close out a game, it does put guys back into their more proper roles. Trying to mix and match and close out the ninth without him has been difficult."
To make room for Janssen on the active roster, infielder Chris Getz was designated for assignment.
ROGERS ALTERS DELIVERY
Esmil Rogers, who's struggled early this season, looked noticeably different during his two-inning appearance in Saturday's game.
He dropped to a three-quarters arm slot. Rogers went six up, six down.
"He made a little bit of an adjustment the day before," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "We're trying to find a little more deception. He's an over-the-top guy and maybe the hitters have a good view of the baseball. We just altered just a hair and he seems comfortable with it and he had a good outing (on Saturday)."
It's been a tough year for Rogers. He's allowed a staff-high five home runs in just 18 1/3 innings pitched and of late has been used by manager John Gibbons only in low-leverage situations.