Colby Rasmus spent a quiet winter in Alabama healing the wounds of a baseball season gone haywire. Friday, he emerged from hibernation, refreshed and ready to re-connect with Blue Jays teammates who could be forgiven for thinking they were meeting someone new.
This Colby Rasmus was very different from the shellshocked, deer-in-the-headlights zombie who sleepwalked his way through the final two months of the 2011 season after a mid-season trade from the St. Louis Cardinals. That deal brought the Jays what they believe is their centrefielder of the immediate future. In exchange St. Louis got bullpen parts in Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel that played a crucial role in the late-season run that culminated with a stunning World Series championship.
While Rasmus seems to have hit the re-set button on a career that foundered in St. Louis, the scars are still close to the surface. For whatever reason, Rasmus got on manager Tony LaRussa’s wrong side, increasing the pressure on a 24-year-old playing a premier position in a town where baseball is a religion.
The harder he tried, the more he tightened up and the worse he played. The worse he played, the more flak he had to absorb until he simply retreated into himself.
“In St. Louis, I got into some trouble where my outfield play wasn’t very good but I just wasn’t playing like myself,” he said. “I wasn’t relaxed, I was worried about messing up and thinking like I had to go over the top to do these things and I just got stressed out, got caught in a place where my confidence wasn’t there.”
The worse he played, the more criticism he received. The barbs that stung the most came from LaRussa himself who, in his attempts to motivate his young player, only sent him spinning into a deeper funk.
“I was always so much younger than everybody else, and I just felt like I was never really, I guess you could say, a part of the team, kind of,” said Rasmus. “I never got comfortable, and Tony wanted it that way. He always said he didn’t want me to get comfortable, he wanted me to always stay working hard and doing this and doing that.
“It’s definitely tough to deal with, especially when you feel like you’re working hard. I definitely worked hard in the gym but I got to where my swing, I just couldn’t feel anything.
“Once it got down to it in my last little bit in St. Louis it just got crazy. The fans were upset with me, the coaches just banging heads a little bit and I just wasn’t comfortable. I couldn’t relax and play.”
After the trade, it was clear that Rasmus was, at least temporarily, damaged goods. With the Jays, he hit .173, with a .201 on-base percentage and an OPS of .517, with 39 strikeouts in just 133 at-bats. Compounding the problem was a wrist injury that kept him out of the lineup for three weeks in late August, early September.
Over the course of the off-season, Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and Rasmus hooked up for several days of work in Atlanta and Murphy brought back some glowing reports to manager John Farrell.
“It was all very positive,” said Farrell. “From a fundamentals standpoint, he had a more controlled leg kick. He was able to handle the ball away from him and handle the ball on the inner part of the plate. He was hitting the ball to all fields.
“The most important thing that stood out was his eagerness and his attitude. He couldn’t wait to get back to camp and get involved. He’s a good kid, with a good outlook.”
During August and September, Rasmus was clearly in a bad place emotionally and mentally. He appeared to be a guy just hoping for the end of the season so he could regroup. Friday, he was open and talkative and clearly relishing the chance to start over again with a new team and new teammates. It helps, he thinks, to be part of a team where there are so many players his own age.
“Everybody’s been great, all the players, some young guys who have a lot of life to them,” he said. “It won’t be like St. Louis where I’m just the young little puppy and everybody wants to teach me the tricks and beat me down and tell me that I’m doing things wrong. These guys are cool. Bautista’s awesome, always upbeat, doesn’t show anybody up or try to put his ego on top of you. This is all about playing the game, having fun, just a bunch of guys trying to win a ball game.”
While Rasmus was trying to peel himself off of life’s ceiling in the days following the end of the season, his old mates in St. Louis were winning themselves a World Series. Rasmus didn’t watch.
“I was (rooting for them),” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends on that team, a lot of guys I love and respect. I have no hard feelings towards anybody, you know? Just didn’t watch it. I was doing something else.”
Rasmus is expected to get a World Series ring from the Cards (“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said) and when asked if he got a World Series share, he smiled and said: “I got a little sumpin, sumpin.”
In fact he got himself more than $200,000, pro-rated on the number of days he was with the Cards last year. That was about half his $443,000 salary from 2011 but no where near the $2.7 million he will make from the Jays in 2012, after settling well ahead of arbitration.
The Colby Rasmus who showed up in camp this week can’t wait to start earning it.
Frasor looking fine
Jason Frasor is back in a Blue Jays uniform and looking quite at home.
The 34-year-old reliever’s has caught the eye of his catchers and coaching staff in these early days of camp.
Friday morning, J.P. Arencibia called for a slider and Frasor snapped one off on the corner, right at an invisible batter’s knees.
“Hey,” shouted Arencibia. “That’s something different.”
Pitching coach Bruce Walton noticed also.
“He’s really tightened up his slider,” said Walton. “All in all he’s looking ready to go.”
The other day, Frasor was talking about his short stay with the White Sox and their volatile ex-manager Ozzie Guillen last season before being traded back to Toronto, where he has appeared in 455 games.
“If Ozzie Guillen walked in here this minute, he wouldn’t have the slightest idea who I was,” said Frasor with a laugh.
That’s definitely not the case with John Farrell.
“We’re glad to have him back where he belongs,” said Farrell.