DUNEDIN — If there’s a little extra bounce in George Springer’s step – and for the first two days of Blue Jays spring training there certainly appeared to be – it’s for good reason.
About to start season two of a record six-year, $150 million US deal, the 32-year-old centre fielder is feeling fit, healthy and anxious to make up for lost time.
“I feel good right now. I’m in a good place, I hope,” an upbeat Springer told the Toronto Sun after finishing a live batting practice session on the first official workout of game.
“I feel like I’ve prepared well in the off season and I’m just going to go from there.”
No one has higher expectations on Springer than the all-star centre fielder places on himself. So when he was limited to 78 games because of three separate stints on the injured list in 2021, the frustration piled up.
Despite those limitations – and playing at less than 100 per cent in some of those games he was in the lineup – Springer still connected for 22 homers, offering a tantalizing glimpse of what he can offer when healthy. But when he was out of the lineup, the team struggled to a 38-41 record while soaring to a 48-30 mark with him on the field.
Those numbers vault off the page when viewed in context of the one-game near miss of the playoffs.
In a team loaded with offence, having Springer batting leadoff makes the Jays attack as formidable as any in the majors. The veteran is well aware that injuries are a hazard of the trade, but believes he has learned from the on again, off again woes of a year ago.
“I understand what I need to do, the things I need to do better and how I go about a lot of things,” Springer said. “ I hope I can stay on top of it. We’ll see what happens.”
Trouble began when Springer suffered an oblique strain on March 23, an injury that landed him on the 10-day IL to start the season. Springer eventually recovered but struggled to have sustained momentum. The nagging nature of his frequent absences – which included separate stints for a quad strain and knee strain – was wearisome.
So yes, there was frustration.
“Obviously injuries are part of the game. It happens,” Springer said as we chatted outside the Jays clubhouse at the state-of-the art training complex. “It’s tough. But I don’t want it to happen the way it did just back-to-back-to back. It just felt like everything that I did was the wrong thing, but I learned from it.
“I just learned how to handle it. How to understand that I can’t feel bad about my situation. I feel I have to go out and be the same guy every day and just be there for these guys and not dwell on the things I can’t control.”
Springer knows the expectations that come with the richest contract in franchise history – internally and externally. And he can’t wait to deliver through a full season.
“I’m going to go be the same player I’ve always been, the one that they wanted when they signed me,” Springer said. “I owe that to the guys in the locker room, to this organization , to the fans.
“I’m going to do everything I can to stay healthy and stay on the field and go be who I am.”
That player is the one that has hit 20 plus homers six times in his career and was named World Series MVP following the Astros triumph. As much as the Jays will miss the void in offence left from Marcus Semien’s exit, the prospect of 150 games of Springer makes up for it.
“That’s tough to do, (Semien) had almost an MVP year,” manager Charlie Montoyo said when asked about replacing the shortstop’s input. “But one thing we have going for us this year is Springer is healthy. That’s a pretty good replacement right there.
“Everybody likes him. It was tough for him to be a leader last year because he was hurt, but now that he’s healthy, he’s going to influence this clubhouse a lot. And the lineup.”
Springer tried to be a positive influence in the clubhouse last season, but may have been muted some by the awkwardness of not being a full participant.
“I tried to (lead), understanding the challenge of trying not to be too rah, rah, rah and trying not to be too quiet and sit in the corner,” Springer said. “For me, the good thing was I understood what these guys were going through and the ups and downs and highs and lows of playing every day. Just the mental toll and they physical tool it takes.
“I understand that so I was able to stay more involved while trying to get myself out there to join in everything I was watching them do.”
Springer certainly liked what he saw in his younger teammates in a 91-win season that reminded him of the early days of the Houston Astros on their rise to a 2017 World Series title.
“I think obviously with the season ending the way it did last year, essentially on the last day, the guys don’t want any more of that,” Springer said. “Guys know how that felt and understand that vibe and that taste. To know we were one-game short was hard on all of us.
“Now it’s about getting back to work and getting prepared to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Both in the standings and on the injury report.
Losing George Springer to three separate injuries in 2021 dealt the team a huge blow in the just failed playoff pursuit. A look at the Jays record with their centre fielder on the sideline.
Date Injury Record
March 28-April Oblique strain 11-11
May 3-June 21. Quad strain 21-23
August 15-August 29. Knee strain 6-7