ROB MAADDI,AP Sports Writer
DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — Jose Reyes bounced around the clubhouse exuding his usual energy and joked with a few teammates before putting on his Toronto Blue Jays’ uniform.
Back from helping the Dominican Republic win the World Baseball Classic, Reyes is eager to help his new team contend in a tough AL East. There’s no WBC hangover for the four-time All-Star shortstop.
“I don’t want to play down. I want to play the same way I played in the WBC because the season is right around the corner,” Reyes said Friday. “I’m going to continue to work on my game and be ready to go.”
Reyes was back in the leadoff spot in Toronto’s lineup for the first time since March 2. He went 0 for 1 with two walks in a 1-0 win over Boston. Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion also returned to the team after playing for the Dominican Republic. He didn’t start against the Red Sox because of a finger injury.
The laid-back atmosphere at spring training doesn’t compare to the intensity level of the WBC games where there’s so much pride at stake playing for your country. While Reyes doesn’t need much motivation, other players could take a little time to adjust.
“I’m sure it’ll be a little bit of a letdown,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “I’m sure they’re glad to be back with their team. A guy like Reyes, he’s enthusiastic about everything he does.”
Robinson Cano, the MVP of the WBC, returned to the New York Yankees on Thursday, and picked up their only hit in a loss to Minnesota on Thursday night. The four-time All-Star second baseman is even more important to the Yankees now that they’re missing Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, and Derek Jeter’s status is uncertain.
“I want to play the game the same way with the same intensity,” he said. “It’s a different mindset in spring training than playing in the WBC. You don’t want to overdo it. You have to go out there and play hard and prepare for the season.”
Tony Pena, the Yankees bench coach, managed the Dominican Republic to the island nation’s first international title in its third try. He stressed to his players the importance of working hard and carrying their success over into the regular season with their major league teams.
“We talked about them keeping the intensity,” Pena said. “In the WBC, they played with so much emotion. Hopefully they continue the same thing.”
The Minnesota Twins had 13 players compete in the WBC, tied with Milwaukee for most in the majors. Manager Ron Gardenhire hasn’t noticed his guys lacking focus or playing with any less energy since returning.
“This is the big leagues. This is their job,” he said. “I think these guys love being on a baseball field. That was fun watching the WBC. All of our guys had a blast, but they were excited to get back to our club and get ready for the season.”
Many managers would prefer keeping their players in camp for obvious reasons. No one wants to risk losing a key player to injury. Teixeira, Hanley Ramirez and David Wright each were injured during the WBC.
Another problem is lack of playing time. Some guys sat on the bench or in the bullpen and had trouble staying sharp during the WBC, so they have to catch up when they’re back in camp. This could be a setback for players competing for roster spots or starting jobs.
On the other side of that argument, the experience of playing in a world-class tournament can be benefit younger players.
“There are some issues,” Gardenhire said. “Some guys didn’t get in, didn’t pitch and they were gone for a few days, but we also look at it like what a great experience it is being around some of the best players in the world. Some of our young guys got to take batting practice and take ground balls with some of the greatest players in the world, and that can really help them.
“I’m happy for our guys that went and I’m happy to have them back.”
Most managers ease their returning players back into the lineup, rest them when their teams have long road trips and then treat them as normal during the final days of spring training.
Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney saved seven of the Dominican Republic’s eight wins and had a 0.00 ERA. So, Rays manager Joe Maddon will keep a close eye on him.
“We’ve got to watch him,” Maddon said. “Yes, there’s a physical impact. I don’t know how that’s going to play out by the end of the year. Let him chill for a little bit and then get back to work.”
Granderson, a member of the U.S. team in the 2009 WBC, doesn’t think it has much of a carry-over effect on players during the regular season. He was with Detroit four years ago, and teammates Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen also competed in the WBC.
“When I came back, I got thrown right into the mix,” Granderson said. “We came back and collectively played well. We had a pretty good season and competed in a very competitive AL Central. I don’t think there was any major downswing.”
Time will tell if that holds true again.
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