NEW YORK — Not much has gone right for the Blue Jays this season. They’ve gotten precious little from their supposed best players which is a real twisting of the knife given that the team spent its offseason putting together some quality depth. As good as those depth players may be, they just can’t replace top-level talent and tend to falter when they’re overexposed. And when almost all of your depth is overexposed, you end up out of the wild card race by the middle of July.
Surprisingly Devon Travis, the oft-injured second baseman, has been the healthiest he’s ever been this deep into an MLB season. The fact that he’s remained on the field in the one year that the Blue Jays have added reserve players that are capable of being more than black holes at second base has a twinge of irony to it, but both Travis and the team are happy that he’s still out on the field regularly.
BP Toronto caught up with Travis last weekend in New York to discuss his season, his health, and some of the year’s ups and downs.
The story on Travis is well told. He’s accrued a 3.6 WARP in his three-plus seasons in the league but has only played in 295 games. That’s out of 611 possible through Monday, August 20 which means Travis has only been on the field for 48 percent of Toronto’s regular season games since making his debut. He’s already played in 82 games this season, good for the second-most ever and he’s on track to beat his personal best of 101 barring another injury.
That said, it hasn’t been a breakthrough year. Travis has racked up -0.1 WARP so far this season and is posting the worst numbers of his career. Through 82 games he owns a slash line of .237/.284/.381 – all career-lows. There’s some poor BABIP at play but Travis has also seen some changes to his batted-ball profile. He’s hitting more ground balls than ever (51.2%) and fewer fly balls than ever (27.1%), meaning that he can’t really take advantage of a 14.8% HR/FB rate. Despite the down season portrayed by most metrics, Travis remains pleased with his recent work while acknowledging that it hasn’t been the smoothest of rides.
“It’s been a good year. Obviously off to a slow start but I’ve been able to rebound a little bit and kind of gather myself and get a nice little system of work back down and have something to build off of. It’s been nice. Yeah, not the start I was looking for but it’s been alright.”
Travis is right in that sense, as he has been a .259/.302/.404 hitter since June began and has managed to drive in 13 runs in 16 August games despite hitting just .235 for the month. Although they aren’t the numbers from his earlier seasons, he’s been getting better. He’s been getting some good luck with his batted-balls over that time, but he’s definitely going in the right direction.
“Sometimes this game can give you things that sometimes there’s no explanation for – good and bad. Unfortunately for me the last couple of years it’s been bad.”
Travis’ year began with an ugly slump as he hit just .148 over his first 18 games of the season, thanks in large part to a .190 BABIP. It resulted in him being demoted to Triple-A Buffalo. While it was expected that the team sent Travis down a level to find his game again, he says that wasn’t quite the case. There were no specific requests and no specific timeframe.
“They just said they wanted me to play more. That was really the bulk of it. Obviously I had gotten off to a slow start but, yeah, that’s all they said.”
Travis had appeared in 18 of the team’s 27 games when he was sent down on April 29, with Yangervis Solarte and Lourdes Gurriel impinging on his playing time with their strong play. The at-bats with the Bisons were regular but Travis didn’t have a great stint at AAA, hitting just .210/.234/.274 with only two extra-base hits in 62 plate appearances across 14 games. Did it help him get into some sort of rhythm or work out any kinks at the plate?
“I don’t think it hurt. Gave me a little bit of extra fire, that’s for sure. But I don’t think it hurt.”
So while his campaign still contained the usual speed bump, Travis has been able to stay off the DL (so far) for the first time in his Blue Jays career. His injury history is long for a player with fewer than four seasons of work.
A strong rookie season was derailed by a left shoulder injury that eventually required exploratory surgery in September. That November, Travis went under the knife again to correct Os acromiale, a condition where lack of ossification essentially left him with an accessory bone in his shoulder. The recovery process pushed his 2016 debut until the end of May. While he made it into the postseason that year he would sustain a right knee bone bruise in Game 1 of the ALDS and aggravate the injury in the first game of the ALCS. He underwent knee surgery to remove a small flap of cartilage in November. Travis was off to a nice start in 2017 but would be felled by another bone bruise in his right knee in early June which led to yet another surgery. It’s been rough.
He’s taken some time off because of a root canal, a sore knee, a sore foot and some rumored back discomfort around the trade deadline but has managed to avoid the DL so far in 2018. It’s something he attributes more to good fortune than any changes in his routine.
“Honestly man it’s luck. Sometimes this game can give you things that sometimes there’s no explanation for – good and bad. Unfortunately for me the last couple of years it’s been bad. Just staying on top of my work and having a little bit of good luck on my side.”
If that’s the case then those around the Blue Jays have to be pleased with his luck even as he tries to re-find his footing as a quality second baseman. After years of waiting for Travis to get out of the infirmary while Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney soaked up at-bats, this year it’s been the extras who have pushed Travis for work. Even with Solarte and Gurriel nursing their own injuries, the Blue Jays appeared to put the pressure on with their acquisition of Brandon Drury at the trade deadline. The glut of capable middle-infielders had many wondering whether or not another transaction to clear the logjam was on the way, and the fact that Travis did have to sit out a few games in the run up to July 31 didn’t slow the speculation. Currently it’s Richard Ureña who is picking up time at second base when Travis needs the day off.
With the addition of Drury, that made for four players capable of playing second that made their Blue Jays debut this season with Solarte, Gurriel, and Gift Ngoepe as the others. Although it might seem like those sorts of moves can leave one looking over their shoulder or affect the relationship between people battling for the same spot, Travis doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t even think it’s really something that you think about too in depth, you know? Whenever your name is in that lineup you’ve got to go out there and make the most of your opportunity. Obviously it’s heightened a bit more when there are other guys that can play the same position as you but we’re all in this as a team and we all push each other to be as great as we can be, understanding that our goal every day is just to win ball games.”
The winning has been infrequent but Travis has been able to stay available while his main competitors are saddled with various injuries. For three seasons the story was that Travis would be a serious producer as long as he could stay on the field, only for him to struggle while dealing with minor ailments this time around. If Travis has turned the corner with his injury luck and can recapture his form, the Blue Jays will be able to boast one of the better second basemen in league. But that appears to be happening in piecemeal for the time being. As for the rest of the way, Travis’ top goal is one you might expect.
“Just stay healthy. That’s it. Just finish the season, put together a nice little streak with the boys, win some games and have a little fun.”
Lead Photo © Peter G. Aiken