By: Bob Elliott
St. PETERSBURG, Fla. _ Ah, good luck to the Toronto Blue Jays trying to sell tickets for spring training games next March.
At this rate who will want to play?
In a scene which brought to mind Tim Raines with the Montreal Expos in 1987 at Shea Stadium, Edwin Encarnacion’s opening day at-bats did not indicate he had missed all of the spring games.
The DH stepped in to face Chris Archer in the first inning, without an at-bat in the 28 major-league games the Jays played last month due to having a tooth pulled and a strained oblique.
Facing a man in Archer who struck out 12 in five innings, Encarnacion stayed back and lined a 2-2 pitch to right centre for two-run single scoring Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista.
Most hitters would have grabbed the bat so tightly saw dust was coming out the end, they would have muscled up and swung mightily they may have hit the ball 350 feet ... straight up.
As Tommy Lasorda used to say “if that ball ever comes down ... you’re in trouble.”
Well, when you stroke liners that never get higher than 20 feet off the ground when they come down, they touch green.
Encarnacion did the same in the eighth he singled to right facing reliever Ryan Webb. He was on base when Troy Tulowitzki homered.
So, 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored in a 5-2 win.
Before the game Encarnacion was asked if he was ready?
“I think so, but I guess we’ll see,” he said with a shrug. He estimated he had 22 at-bats in minor-league games: Monday and Tuesday, he was off Wednesday, then hit Thursday and Friday.
Not quite Raines, but pretty impressive. After becoming a free agent Nov. 12, 1986 at the height of collusion, zero teams expressed interest in Raines. The only two players to switch teams were Andre Dawson (from the Expos to the Cubs) and Lance Parrish (from the Tigers to the Phillies).
Raines was eligible to re-sign with the Expos on May 1, signed for $5,000,000 US over three years, and a $900,000 signing bonus.
The next day at Shea, Raines, who had not participated in spring training, hit the first pitch he saw off the wall for a triple facing David Cone. Raines finished with four hits in five at-bats, a stolen base, and a game-winning grand slam in the 10th inning off Jesse Orosco.
And now let’s go down to the clubhouse for reviews of mighty Edwin’s return.
Take it away ...
Chris Colabello: “If I had miss all spring ... I would have looked like I did today (0-for-4 with three strikeouts). Edwin knows how guys are going to attack him. He is adamant about not trying to do too much.”
Donalson: “Some people need at-bats, some people don’t.”
Justin Smoak: “But that’s Edwin, he has 10 years in, he’s a professional hitter.”
Devon Travis: “He’s sick, it’s like he doesn’t need the practice.”