After long recovery, Naylor plays first Cactus League game

March 30th, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Since June 27, everything has been about 's right leg. He’s gone through nonstop rehab, has encountered constant analysis and has channeled all his energy into being ready for Opening Day for 8 1/2 months. And yet, he’s not tired of talking about it.

“I think it’s kind of good to talk about it,” Naylor said. “Again, I’m not the only one who’s gone through this severe type of injury. So me talking about it, maybe it helps someone else who had just gotten hurt and they can hear my story. ... I try to use this injury as motivation for others and just want to kind of inspire other people with it. It’s crappy and it sucks, but you can come back from anything if you just put your mind to it.”

It’s hard to believe that the gruesome collision Naylor experienced at Target Field that left him with fractures and ligament tears in his lower right leg could be such a positive light in his life. He’s already noted that his rehab process led to the best offseason he’s had, and he re-emphasized that after his first Cactus League game in Tuesday's 10-3 win over the Brewers by saying this injury has been a blessing in disguise -- especially because it forced him to alter his approach as a hitter, which, so far, has paid off.

“I couldn’t be as aggressive on my front side swinging anymore,” Naylor said. “I feel like it was, again, a blessing in disguise to get hurt to calm me down and make me more aware as a hitter, in the box and stuff, and not try to do too much or else I’ll hurt myself again. So yes, it was a blessing in disguise.”

The results have been in Naylor's favor thus far, even though he’s only had a limited window in game action. The Guardians didn’t want to rush him in his ramp-up process despite the fact that he entered camp ready to tackle every challenge. He got into his first Minor League game on Thursday and went 1-for-4 while playing four innings in right field. Two days later, he played in another Minor League contest and went 2-for-4 with an RBI-double of the left-center-field wall.

It was clear the Naylor was ready to take the next step, and he was finally able to do so in Tuesday’s win. He played five innings in right field and went 2-for-3 with a double in his first at-bat.

“I feel like I’m sort of back to normal, I guess,” Naylor said. “There’s no pain, knock on wood. There’s no discomfort. Just trying to take care of it every day and be as proactive as I can with taking care of it and doing my rehab and treatments that I got. It’s been great.”

“You can see even the way the dugout erupted when [he got the double],” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “That was good to see. … I think if you look closely, you can still tell [he’s working his way back from an injury], but thinking about where he was and where he is and where he’s gonna be, it’s pretty incredible.”

That leads us to the million dollar question: Will Naylor be ready to go by Opening Day? Unfortunately, Cleveland will still have to wait to see. Even though there’s only a week remaining to make the decision, the club wants to get him as many reps as possible before determining if he’s ready to handle the regular season. While he gives off every indication that he’s ready to play, he, Francona and the front office have all been clear that it’s not a guarantee.

“That’s my goal,” Naylor said. “I want to be here, help the team win early and often, and hopefully, I'm able to play Opening Day. If not, then it's on God's time, and I’ll be patient as I can.”