With Blue Jays off to rough start, veteran confident club will rebound
TORONTO -- When the Blue Jays' season hit a new low during a recent road trip to New York, 16-year veteran Mark DeRosa decided it was about time someone called for a team meeting.
The closed-door meeting took place prior to Sunday's series finale against the Yankees, but it didn't come to light until much later in the day. It did little to reverse the losing trend, as Toronto went on to be swept in the four-game series, but the hope is that it will help change the clubhouse's overall mood.
DeRosa couldn't help but notice the atmosphere surrounding the team has changed over the past several weeks. A roster once filled with swagger had been replaced with tentativeness and almost a fear of the inevitable.
"That was the whole reason I called the meeting, was you can't help but see the vibe of the whole dugout and whole clubhouse kind of waiting for something bad to happen," DeRosa said. "That's just human nature. We have too good a rotation, too good a lineup for that to be the norm.
"I felt like give it a month and see what happens, but I felt it was a situation that needed to be addressed. Obviously my speech didn't work that much, because we went out and lost the game, but we've been in every game barring a few blowouts. I think we needed to come together and not have to have it be [manager John Gibbons] all the time calling us together."
The Blue Jays entered play on Tuesday night against Boston in danger of tying a franchise record for most losses during April with 18. That's the last thing the organization was expecting following an offseason makeover that saw a series of high-priced additions made to an already up-and-coming squad.
However, the World Series isn't won or lost during the winter months regardless of what some of the critics might say. The fact that the Blue Jays were the odds-on favorites means little when the club finds itself 9 1/2 games back in the American League East.
High expectations are a thing of the past and now the Blue Jays must find a way to gradually climb their way back into contention. The meeting was supposed to be the first step in that process, and while it might not have gone exactly as first anticipated, DeRosa felt a lot was still accomplished.
"I was actually hoping more would be said, and it wasn't," DeRosa said. "That's fine. Some guys like to speak in front of groups, and some guys don't. I felt obviously one of the reasons I was brought in here was to be kind of the sounding board for the guys and to give my opinion on certain things.
"I feel like Gibby has done a heck of a job of keeping his composure and picking us up every day and fighting for us and having to answer all of the tough questions. It's time we looked each other in the mirror and kind of addressed our problems."
Gibbons is the one who is feeling most of the heat from a clearly disgruntled fanbase. Call-in radio programs and social media websites are filled with comments from outraged fans who are calling for the Texas native to be removed from his position.
That doesn't surprise Gibbons, who said the criticism comes with the territory, but it's something the players inside his clubhouse clearly take offense to. One of the main points behind the meeting was for the players to take accountability over their own performance.
DeRosa and his teammates didn't want to get into specifics about exactly what was discussed, but the topics did include having too many poor at-bats and the frequent mental mistakes that keep plaguing the team.
Slugger Jose Bautista wanted to make clear that the issues are the responsibility of the players and not the manager, who has been forced to take the brunt of the criticism.
"That part I can say is pretty ridiculous," Bautista said. "We're the ones out there playing. There's not much he can control from the bench other than matchups and the bullpen, and he's done a terrific job of that, I feel like.
"We're the ones to take the blame, not him. He can't go up to the plate and hit a three-run homer, and he can't go out to the mound and get somebody out. For people to be blaming him is pretty ridiculous."
The effectiveness a meeting like this can have on the team is up for debate, and it certainly can't be quantified by wins, but at the same time, it's one of the reasons DeRosa was signed as a free agent.
The 38-year-old was added in part to mentor third baseman Brett Lawrie and also to provide a much-needed veteran presence inside of the clubhouse. It's the same role Omar Vizquel had last year, but the potential Hall of Famer seemed more interested in a farewell tour and his upcoming documentary than he was about improving the vibe in the dugout.
DeRosa has clearly chosen to take a more hands-on approach.
"We've got too good a club to just accept the position we're in and just see what happens," DeRosa said. "I don't want to see what happens. Like I told the guys, I didn't come back to see what happens. I came back because this roster offered me a chance to get back to the postseason, and everyone should feel that way.
"I've obviously read all of the prognostications that say we have such a small percentage. Only three teams have ever come back starting with a deficit of this magnitude, but when you really grind it out, it's eight games. It's a tough division. It's a tough AL East division, but there's no reason we can't get as hot as cold as we've been."