GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The word is relief, and in this context it has nothing to do with pitching.
It’s the word shortstop Corey Seager used to describe the feeling of a Spring Training with a body that’s whole.
“2016 is probably the last time I felt as good as this,” he said, referring to his Rookie of the Year season.
Perhaps you remember that Seager.
Before the Dodgers’ batting order could boast a pair of MVPs, before Max Muncy became a 35-homer machine and before the arrivals of next-big-things Will Smith and Gavin Lux, Seager was the foundational uber-prospect upon which a dynasty would be built.
Seager was Rookie of the Year in 2016 and a two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger by '17, all while playing the essential position of shortstop.
But in 2018 he broke, requiring Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and labrum surgery on his left hip.
Despite four weeks off with a strained hamstring, his comeback campaign in 2019 was hardly a disaster: Seager still led the National League with 44 doubles, set a career-high with 87 RBIs and posted an .818 OPS on a team that won 106 games.
Management, however, apparently felt an upgrade was needed, spending the offseason trying to replace Seager with Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor before pivoting to land Mookie Betts. If that offended the 25-year-old, he’s not admitting it.
“It didn’t bother me,” he said. “Maybe surprise is a better word. You try to not look into it that much. Just prepare for the season with the team you’re with and if it happens, it happens. I tried to stay out of it as much as possible.”
Seager went 3-for-3 in Sunday's loss to the Rangers, raising his Cactus League average to .333. After what he called “an OK year” in 2019, Seager is too modest to predict a return to his superstar status. But there’s a hint when he explains how health translates to a normal spring routine.
“It’s a super relief,” he said. “I actually get to prepare the way you would. I’m not on a rehab schedule. I don’t have somebody telling me I can only do this many or that many. It’s not -- ‘How do I feel?’ after each swing and throw. I don’t have to ask myself, ‘Where am I at?’ -- You can just do what you want. It’s not stressful.”
In the latter half of 2017, Seager played in pain and when it continued in April of 2018, he had the elbow operation, followed by the hip operation. Last year, he was pain-free, but that didn’t mean he felt normal.
“You never feel like you’re strong, just fighting not to lose what you didn’t really have,” Seager said. “This year I feel great. It’s the first year where you could just work out and feel your body again and don’t feel like everything has to be perfect to do what you have to do. I felt healthy all year. I didn’t necessarily feel good or strong last year. It was nice not being in pain, but you didn’t have the strength and durability. My body is now back so I can do what I want to. Results will vary. But I feel confident in my body.
“I don’t feel I have to be in the perfect spot anymore, whether it’s defensively, hitting, baserunning. I feel strong enough to where I am in an athletic enough spot. I wasn’t strong enough to do it unless I was in just the right spot. That’s what you have to do in rehab, be in the perfect spot, do everything perfectly correct so you don’t mess anything up. That’s hard.”