Jeff Blair

The trouble with Brett Lawrie

TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

Toronto Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie injures himself sliding into second base on a steal against the Atlanta Braves during the sixth inning of their MLB Interleague League baseball game in Toronto May 27, 2013. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Call it a subtle reminder from the baseball gods. Despite some of the shrill voices out there, what happened with Brett Lawrie on Sunday wasn’t as much of an affront as Ted Lilly refusing to hand over the baseball to John Gibbons on the mound or David Wells throwing it down the third base line with Cito Gaston coming out with the hook.

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This wasn’t George Bell openly challenging Jimy Williams’ authority by sitting out a Grapefruit League game because he didn’t want to become a designated hitter. Shea Hillenbrand and Gibbons fighting in the clubhouse? Please.

By now it seems as if Lawrie’s teammates have come to accept that the same quick-twitch muscles and single-minded obliviousness that are sometimes strengths can often be flaws. You want to worry about Lawrie’s long-term future? Worry about the sprained left ankle he sustained Monday night in a 9-3 win over the Atlanta Braves – on a steal of second with a 6-1 lead in the sixth and Braves starter Tim Hudson on fumes.

“Slid and twisted it,” Gibbons, the Blue Jays manager, said afterward, indicating that further medical tests were possible. For now, Lawrie is day to day – and, really, that’s just about enough drama with the guy, no?

Jose Reyes took batting practice Monday, and that should have been the biggest news. But Sunday’s incident involving Lawrie was the only topic of discussion. Once again, Lawrie’s lack of on-field filter manifested itself in a startling lack of maturity, understanding of the game, and sense of place: staring at a teammate, Adam Lind, and third base coach Luis Rivera after they’d made the judicious decision to not test the arm of the Baltimore Orioles Nick Markakis on a ninth-inning fly ball in what would turn out to be a 6-5 come-from-behind win.

“Thank god I didn’t go,” Lind said with a chuckle on Monday. “I’d have been out.” It was dealt with, properly, by Gibbons – who stared at Lawrie as he walked into the dug-out and fired a few F-bombs in his direction before Jose Bautista directed Lawrie to the far end of the dug-out. Lawrie addressed the media following the game and then apologized to his teammates after the hitter’s meeting before Monday’s game against the Braves.

Then, Lawrie collected two hits and had to leave the game in the bottom of the sixth inning after rolling over his ankle on an ugly slide. Lawrie stayed in the game briefly, but was taken out for pinch-runner Mark DeRosa after hip-hopping to third on an infield out by Emilio Bonifacio. Oh, those baseball gods …

Bautista told everybody on Monday that he thought his teammate was “confused and got caught up in the moment.” Translation: Lawrie didn’t realize in the heat of the moment that with the score 5-3, the risk-reward of tagging up against a Gold Glove right-fielder was all risk and no reward. DeRosa, who is on the roster in part to mentor Lawrie, saw a player “struggling to get things going,” but also agreed that Lawrie “needs to realize it matters,” while expressing confidence in his younger teammates ability to do so.

Look: if you really want to lose sleep about the bone-headedness of a 23-year-old, worry about the fact that Lawrie can lose track of things in the middle of a ninth-inning rally. The other stuff? That’s just frat-boy jack-assery. Big picture, this is what is significant: despite all the fuss Lawrie generates by virtue of his status as the highest-ceilinged Canadian-born player the organization has ever had, it is remarkable how reserved those in the upper echelon of the organization are when it comes to discussing his future.

They don’t do hand-springs over him, folks. He is not viewed as irreplaceable, despite the fact that he is far and away the Blue Jays best defender.

The guess here is Lawrie will have to wait another three years at least before the team contemplates committing to him on a multi-year basis. A further guess? He’ll be at second base by that time. At any rate, while Lawrie was given polite applause as he left the game, the more than scattered boos he heard in his first at bat Monday night suggests his currency is no longer what it once was in these parts. Only he can build up its value – and that can’t happen if he continues to get hurt. There’s your worry.