By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
All things considered, former Highland star Adam Lind would rather not have had the free time to watch most of the rest of Major League Baseball open the 2013 season Monday.
And the Toronto Blue Jays’ designated hitter can be forgiven if he’s a bit impatience to get back on the field.
Back problems have cost the 29-year-old one month of the regular season in each of the past two years, and he’s entering the final season of a four-year contract he signed in 2010.
The Blue Jays hold team options that could trigger additional years in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and Lind has made it clear his preference is to remain in Toronto.
That’s all the more true after an offseason in which the Blue Jays were as active as any team — adding reigning National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and former all-stars Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to their pitching staff and bolstering the every day lineup with the additions of shortstop Jose Reyes and outfielder Melky Cabrera.
The result has expectations higher in Toronto than at any time since the team won the last of back-to-back World Series championships in 1993.
Lind, who could be part of a lefty-righty platoon system this season, is scheduled to start today and bat fifth in the lineup behind first baseman Edwin Encarnacion.
“There’s nothing like it,” Lind said of playing on opening day. “There’s a sold-out stadium, and all the players are on top of their game. This town is ready for baseball to start.”
So, too, is the American League’s 2009 Silver Slugger Award winner at DH.
After being demoted last May to Triple-A Las Vegas, Lind reconnected with former teammate Chad Mottola — Toronto’s minor-league hitting instructor. He showed the power hitter tape of his breakout 2009 campaign and tried to get Lind to forget about his struggles and get back into the habits that put him on the cusp of the All-Star Game.
The strategy worked, and Lind returned to the majors in late June on a tear. But a recurrence of pain in his lower back sidelined him for another month shortly thereafter.
Lind returned to hit .301 in September with two homers and 16 RBIs but finished the season at .255 with 11 homers and 45 RBIs in 93 games overall.
He’s taken up a yoga routine during the offseason and said his body feels better than it has in years.
“I’m trying not to go on the DL (disabled list),” he said during a cellphone interview Monday. “That’s one of my major goals is to stay on the field for the whole season.”
The results in spring training were encouraging to say the least.
Lind hit .365 (23-for-63) with two homers, nine RBIs and five doubles. He reached base at an extremely healthy clip, posting a .417 on-base percentage, and saw his OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) soar to .956. Anything above .900 is considered to be a strong number.
But those stats came in a small sample size, and Lind said he wasn’t even aware of the numbers. Stadiums used for spring training games, after all, lack the multimillion-dollar scoreboards that flash a player’s stats to everyone in attendance before each at-bat.
Lind doesn’t need to see the numbers to know he’s in a groove anyway. He feels it every day at the plate.
“I’m more athletic in the (batter’s) box,” he said. “I’m looser, more relaxed. That allows my hands to do all the work instead of being tense and trying too hard. When you try too hard, that’s not good.”
Lind said it will be hard to ever replicate his astounding 2009 statistics — a .305 batting average, 35 homers and 114 RBIs — but he feels he can get closer this year as part of a stacked Blue Jays lineup.
Toronto has aspirations of contending for the AL East division championship and a postseason berth for the first time in 20 years.
Lind’s just ready to put all the speculation and anticipation behind him and let the games speak for themselves.
“In the clubhouse, we understand we have a good chance of winning some games and doing some damage and maybe getting into the playoffs,” he said.