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Steve Phillips

TSN Baseball Insider

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We all like to play the blame game when something goes wrong.

Toronto Blue Jays fans, for example, have every right to be frustrated that prized off-season acquisition George Springer has landed back on the 10-day injured list because of his right quad strain. But no one deserves blame here.

When a player is injured, a team’s medical staff puts together a plan for his rehabilitation and recovery from the injury. Players have a series of tests that they have to pass in order to get back on the field. These tests include baseball activities like running the bases, sliding, making reads and breaks in the outfield.

Springer, who signed a six-year, $150-million contract with the Blue Jays in January, went through the protocols and passed the tests necessary to return to the field. Unfortunately, the 31-year-old’s leg gave out.

It is nearly impossible to replicate game speed in the testing. There is something about game action which causes players to dig a little harder and push off more intensely, which can bring a player down.

Just because there is no one to blame, it doesn’t mean that the Jays won’t adjust the outfielder’s recovery program this time. I expect the team to be more conservative than they were previously. When they think Springer is ready to play in games, they will likely give it a few more days. Then it is highly likely they will send him on a rehab assignment in the minors. That option wasn’t available before his last activation from the injured list.

 

Pearson working his way back

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With their star player on the IL, the Jays are going to have to pitch and defend, since relying on offence is a bit compromised without Springer in the lineup.

That is where Nate Pearson comes into the picture.

The Jays were counting on Pearson to be a big part of their rotation this year. The 24-year-old right-hander has recovered from his right adductor strain and was optioned to the Buffalo Bisons, the Jays’ Triple-A team, which is currently playing their games in Trenton, N.J.

Pearson made the Bisons’ Opening Day start on Tuesday and was very effective, throwing 78 pitches in 3.2 innings, allowing one run on four hits and a walk, and striking out eight.

The Jays want to make sure that when they promote Pearson to the major leagues, he is ready to attack hitters and throw strikes. At 78 pitches, he is close to being ready to start a game in the majors as long as he’s in command all of his pitches. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in the Jays rotation at some point during the next homestand.

The delay to Pearson’s season may have a silver lining in that he will not be logging too many innings early in the 2021 campaign, which could lead to limiting him later.

Ideally, the Jays can give him the ball every fifth game once he returns to the rotation and he can carry momentum into the postseason without limitations. He has the ability, now he needs the health and consistency to move forward.

So, Jays fans, keep your fingers crossed that, by June 1, the Jays will have both Springer and Pearson back on the active roster.

 

Jays to call Buffalo home starting June 1

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Unfortunately, Springer and Pearson will be rejoining the team south of the border. The Jays have announced that they will move their “home field” to Sahlen Field in Buffalo from Dunedin, Fla., in time for their homestand starting on June 1 against the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros.

It is unclear whether the Jays, who had their home base in Buffalo during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season, will be able to return to Toronto at any point in 2021.

That creates a level of uncertainty for the players and staff that can to be distracting. It will be the responsibility of Jays president Mark Shapiro, general manager Ross Atkins, and manager Charlie Montoyo and his staff to make it as smooth of a transition as possible.

If Shapiro, Atkins or Montoyo complain, they give licence to the players to complain. Last season’s experience of stadium-hopping at least offers some solace that they can all manage the uncertainty.

It will be critical that the organization assists the players with housing options and relocation. It is uncomfortable and stressful for the players; imagine what it is like for the families of the players. The gentler the relocation is for the families, the better the players will respond. This is a big deal that has to be made to feel inconsequential for everyone.

 

Releasing Pujols short-sighted move

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The Los Angeles Angels shocked the baseball community on Thursday by designating their future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols for assignment.

The 41-year-old, who sits fifth in MLB history with 667 career home runs, was designated with the intention of releasing him. Pujols is in the last year of his 10-year, $240-million deal.

He has declined in skills and is just a shadow of who he once was – there is no denying that. But releasing him is absurd. Pujols is an icon. He has represented the Angels in exemplary fashion in every minute since joining them in 2011. He is one of the best right-handed hitters to ever play the game.

The last-place Angels (13-17) don’t have a Pujols problem, they have a pitching problem. They can replace Pujols with a younger, more versatile player, but the incremental benefit won’t come close to what they have lost with him in their clubhouse and dugout. He’s a beloved teammate and friend. He is one of the most-respected players in the game.

I have no doubt that tears were shed in the Angels clubhouse by all the players, including superstar Mike Trout. If the team is making a decision that causes that much pain, it isn’t the right move.

This is a very short-sighted move. The Angels have a rookie general manager, Perry Minasian. He has no ties to the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and he wants to put his own stamp on the team. But this is where an owner tells his GM to stop and consider the big picture.

Releasing Pujols doesn’t just affect him. Every player will feel a sense of loss and vulnerability. When something as unpredictable as this happens within the team, it makes the players distrustful of the organization. It also shows their own players and future free agents how the Angels will treat them.

Don’t you think that Trout now wonders if this will be him nine years from now when he’s in the final year of his contract?