DUNEDIN — At first it had to feel like a sign of respect for a 15-year veteran of the Major Leagues.
When Curtis Granderson arrived at Dunedin Stadium for his first spring training with his fifth big-league team, he found his locker along the wall of veterans.
Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales are to his right while Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar and Marcus Stroman are to his right. And it didn’t take long to feel right at home among that group.
Better yet, Granderson, who will turn 37 later this week, immediately made a positive impact with his new teammates. In his very first at-bat this spring, the veteran blasted a home run and he hasn’t looked back.
Granderson had nine hits in his first 22 at bats with the Jays, including four home runs. Remove the asterisk of spring training and it has been quite a debut.
Though well aware that the Jays are being roundly dismissed as too old and the roster too stagnant, in his first month with them, Granderson has a different take.
“Guys seem to be comfortable but confident,” Granderson said as he prepares for his second tour of duty with an American League East team. “I lot of guys have played with each other at some point, whether it’s been in the minor leagues together or the big leagues together.
“The guys seem to understand each other, what makes them tick. How to push each other and support easy other, which is a good thing.”
Granderson’s impression has been hard to miss, frankly, with his production limiting some of the concerns in left field and at the top of manager John Gibbons’ batting order.
For the seventh time in his 10 pre-season starts, Granderson was batting leadoff on Tuesday when the Jays faced the Braves in Orlando, with the other prime candidate for the job, Devon Travis, right behind him.
His early performance has validated that call by Gibbons, even if the Illinois native is dismissive of it.
“I’m not really worried too much about the numbers,” Granderson said. “It’s just a matter of working with my teammates and the coaching staff and understanding how we can collectively get ourselves ready for opening day. For the most part, everybody’s on the same page with the same mindset of what we have to do. So many guys here know what needs to be done. I’m just getting in here and following alongside them.”
Because of age and some late-season struggles last season with the NL-champion Los Angeles Dodgers, the Jays were able to grab Granderson on a one-year, US$5 million deal. It was a move typical of the off season approach by general manager Ross Atkins, who opted not to make a huge splash but instead shopped for reasonably priced veterans with tangible upside.
It is expected that Granderson will be the main player in the left-field platoon, getting the bulk if his starts against left-handed hitters with Steve Pearce getting the rest of the action.
While it may be a leap of faith to ask Granderson to have a huge impact given his age, the three-time all-star certainly brings some positives to his new team. He already appears to be a good fit in the clubhouse and, at the very least, he is already an upgrade over the Pearce-Ezequiel Carrera platoon in left last season.
And if Granderson can deliver offensively and with speed on the basepaths, he could be the perfect transition to young outfield prospects such as Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford Jr.
It hasn’t hurt that Granderson has wisely observed some of his new teammates, most notably third baseman Josh Donaldson.
“The guy knows his body and does the things to make sure his body is in the best situation to be successful both from a defensive standpoint and an offensive standpoint,” Granderson said. “You listen to him talking and say, ya well, maybe I can take some of that to my game.
“The thought process, the conversation … he likes to discuss it. He’s a good person to pick stuff up from, a guy who has had a lot of success.”
It’s easy to be optimistic at this time of the year, but Granderson likes what he sees and is anxious to be part of a potential Jays renaissance.
“From the outside looking in it seeks like a lot of these guys know each other very well but they’ve been very open and accepted guys like myself, (Randal) Grichuk, (Aledmys) Diaz and (Yangervis) Solarte to name a few.
“I wasn’t asked to do too much one way or the other coming in, but I’ve been made to feel welcome.”
RED SOX, YANKEES NO SURE THING
Curtis Granderson has been around long enough not to get too hung up on pre-season predictions.
While acknowledging that there is some merit to “paper favourites” a 162-game season can have too many twists and turns to start handing out pennants in March.
So can the Jays challenge the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the AL East?
“It’s definitely not a reach, but you want to put yourself in the most competent position to challenge,” Granderson said. “And that comes from doing the work and understanding the pieces we have and making sure everyone is in line to do the same things.”
Granderson acknowledged what those who play and watch the game opine — that the Yankees and Red Sox will be difficult to catch, but with a significant caveat.
“If there were like 10 games in the season, I’d bet a lot money on one of those two teams winning it but there are so many games and so many variations of what can happen.
“Everyone has to stay healthy and everyone has to perform consistently. Over the past few years there’s always been that team that nobody’s talking about and that’s giving everyone fits. This year will be no different and this is a team that could be one of them.”
JAYS HOLDING DONALDSON OUT FOR ‘FEW DAYS’
The words Josh Donaldson and calf injury mixed together are enough to make the Blue Jays cringe.
But for the second consecutive spring training, that appears to be the case.
Following the Jays 13-6 win over the Braves in Atlanta on Tuesday, manager John Gibbons said that Donaldson will be held out of action for “a few days.”
It’s unclear when Donaldson aggravated the calf but he did leave a game early on the weekend after just one inning of work.
The potential good news, however, is that while many of his teammates were in Orlando, Donaldson was back here working out at Dunedin Stadium. and the Bringer of Rain appeared to be in great spirits as he crushed ball after ball out of the park during a batting practice session.
The worry, of course, is that it’s a recurrence if the injury that dogged Donaldson last year in spring training, eventually leading to a trip to the DL.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies