|Toronto Blue Jays' Adam Lind makes a catch during practice at spring training. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
DUNEDIN — A couple of weeks of intensive field work around the bag does not a major-league first baseman make, but Adam Lind has not looked at all out of place so far.
After a couple of seasons as a DH and as a left fielder before that, Lind is coming back to the position he played as a kid and in college. There’s a steep learning curve involved and the true apprenticeship won’t begin until he’s in game situations but he relishes the challenge.
“I just feel so much more valuable to the team right now, even though we haven’t even played a game yet,” said Lind Tuesday. “The work I’ve been doing, with everyone chattering ... Escobar, Hill, I’ve got a good group of guys out there who won’t let too many bad things happen.”
Lind and Edwin Encarnacion have both been working at first in a group that includes the main characters who will be on the field with them all season. Aaron Hill at second base, Yunel Escobar at short and Jose Bautista at third. As a unit, they engage in 30 minutes of up-tempo fielding practice every day.
“It’s definitely different than hanging out in the outfield,” said Lind. “I feel good. I’m just trying to get into a solid rhythm. I don’t know a whole lot yet but I can tell I have good footwork and timing sometimes and sometimes I don’t.”
Mike Mordecai, the Jays roving fielding instructor, worked with Lind over the winter and is still involved in his transition in spring training.
“Once he gets up in the stadium, gets accustomed to his surroundings there and starts seeing the ball under different circumstances, open or closed, day games, night games, his reactions will get a little bit better,” said Mordecai.
Where Lind stands and how much, and where, he needs to improve will start to become evident when the games begin later this week.
“That’s the final step: See what happens when we have baserunners and are holding people on,” said Lind. “See how I throw on cutoffs and relays or for double plays.
“We haven’t even been out there yet with real hitters. You’ve got all the different quirky spins that can happen off the end of the bat. We’ve got 30-some games and I probably won’t get every scenario because you never do in this game, but hopefully I’ll get to experience a lot of the things that can happen at first base.”
It is not all going to be smooth sailing. It can’t possible be, given all the demands of the position coupled with Lind’s inexperience. Nobody is expecting him to remind us of Don Mattingly or Steve Garvey or even Lyle Overbay. He just needs to make the routine plays consistently.
“His attitude still remains the same as it was the first day we presented it to him,” said manager John Farrell. “He remains fully confident that he’ll make this transition successfully.
“The game speed will dictate a little bit more of that.”
Lind also believes that playing a regular defensive position will help him at the plate, especially coming off a season that did not measure up to his own standards.
“I haven’t hit at this level,” said Farrell, “but I think it’s a very rare individual that can be a productive hitter when he does have down time. In this case, Adam has the chance to go out and contribute in a game on the defensive side.
“There’s a sentiment on the coaching staff, particularly by (hitting coach Dwayne Murphy) who feels that being on the field is going to be a definite benefit for him.”
Despite the uncertainty that surrounds this experiment, the Jays still have a security blanket in Encarnacion. His problems in the field have not been with his glove. He can pick the ball with anyone. The only reason he’s been found wanting at third base has been his erratic arm.
At first base, he will be required to throw less frequently and in drills this spring, he is making all the plays with his glove. So if Lind needs to take some time to adjust, Encarnacion will be a more than adequate backup. That said, the betting here is that Lind will survive and thrive.
“He’s had a crash course but he’s handled it really well,” said Mordecai, who played 11 seasons with the Braves, Expos and Marlins.
“Let him go through it awhile before you throw him to the jury.”