Slow spring start doesn't worry Thomas
Regular-season routine has historically helped rhythm hitter
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Large contracts bring heavy scrutiny. When the contract includes a hefty option that's realistically within reach for an aging slugger, the microscope will inevitably be trained on that player's every movement.
Such has been the case for Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas this spring. Much has been made of his poor showing during Spring Training, especially in light of the fact that he can guarantee a $10 million salary for 2009 simply by notching 376 plate appearances in the coming season.
The 39-year-old designated hitter shrugs off the situation. He's a creature of habit and one unfortunate trend throughout his career has been slow starts. Thomas' hitting style relies heavily on rhythm and he is quick to point out that sometimes it just takes time for him to get things going offensively.
"I think a lot of people are panicking for no reason," Thomas said. "I'm not going to get caught up in what happens in Spring Training. I've told you guys before, I've had great Spring Trainings and I've had bad Spring Trainings. When the lights turn on, it's a different ballgame and I know what to expect."
After a 1-for-2 showing in Thursday's 8-3 win over the Astros at Knology Park, Thomas departed Florida with a .156 batting average. Thomas' first nine spring games included just one hit among 27 at-bats, equaling a .037 average over that span. In his last six games, though, Thomas has posted a .333 mark with a 6-for-18 showing at the plate.
On Wednesday, Thomas finally looked like the power hitter he's capable of being when he sent a pitch bouncing off the black backdrop in center field for a towering seventh-inning home run against the Reds. Similar to his 1-for-27 performance, though, Thomas wasn't putting too much emphasis on the blast. After all, it's just Spring Training.
"I'm just going to take it for what it's worth," Thomas said. "It's good to hit one solid, especially to center field. That's the best thing I'm going to take from that, because I haven't used center field like I used to and I want to get back out there. I'm a much better hitter if I go to center field."
Thomas also believes he's a much better hitter when he has an established routine between at-bats. During the spring, Thomas believes he sometimes struggles due to the fact that he's simply sitting between plate appearances. Throughout the regular season, he'll escape to the clubhouse after an at-bat to ride on a stationary bike, and he'll break down film between games.
"I don't have a routine right now," Thomas said. "There's a lot more parts to the game that people don't see -- like film work. I do quite a bit of film work. There's just a lot of things that I'm accustomed to doing during the season that I don't do in Spring Training."
Thomas' early-season struggles were well-documented a year ago in his first season with the Blue Jays after signing a two-year deal with the club. April is the only month that Thomas has hit under .300 for his career and that trend persisted in 2007. He posted a .250 average in the season's first month and then a .193 mark in May.
Over his first 55 games with the Jays, Thomas batted .217 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs. He picked up the pace over the final 100 games of the season, in which he hit at a .308 clip with 18 homers and 73 RBIs. Overall, he finished with a .277 average, 27 homers and 95 RBIs for Toronto.
During his inaugural season with the Blue Jays, Thomas compiled 624 plate appearances. Under the terms of his contract, he has a vesting option for 2009 worth $10 million that kicks in if he reaches 1,000 plate appearances in the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Should his spring woes carry over into regular the season, Thomas will surely face some criticism again.
When asked about the contract situation earlier this spring, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he wasn't worried about it.
"We expect him to be in there every day producing," Gibbons said. "That's all I can bank on."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.