DUNEDIN, Fla. — Mark DeRosa won't ask why. All he knows is, after a complete rupture and two surgeries, his chronically injured left wrist feels good for the first time in nearly four years. At age 38, DeRosa is striking the ball well again, and his health has allowed him one more chance to be relevant to a Major League Baseball team.
And the Toronto Blue Jays need someone, too. Manager John Gibbons has named DeRosa part of a starting platoon with Maicer Izturis at third base while slugger Brett Lawrie heals from an injury. DeRosa, who thought he might have played his last game, says he is humbled by the opportunity. He's batting .475/.511/.725 with four doubles and two homers — against decent competition — in Grapefruit League play.
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"Yeah, these last few years, they’ve been terrible," DeRosa said. "Knock on wood, so far this spring it’s been a resurgence, how I feel. The results have been great. It’s not even so much the results but being able to drive the ball a lot better than I have the last three years. I honestly don’t know the reasons why. I know I didn’t pick up a bat, but maybe two or three times after I signed, just to hit off the tee and not make a fool of myself the first day.
"I don’t know if it’s miraculous, but I don’t know why it feels the way it feels and I’m not searching for the reason."
His feelings are understandable. DeRosa probably has done enough searching the past few years.
The 2012 season must have been rock bottom, even though he was playing for the Washington Nationals, who collectively were one of the more enjoyable stories in Major League Baseball. DeRosa had his wrist issues, along with a recurring oblique strain — which unbelievably worsened after DeRosa was high-fived with extreme force by Bryce Harper. For real. That's how you know it's not your year.
And then there was his dad, Jack DeRosa, who was sick with cancer. DeRosa visited him in May when the Nats played at Philadelphia, which is not far from where he grew up in New Jersey. Jack DeRosa died in June at age 69.
DeRosa batted .188/.300/.247 in 101 plate appearances with the Nats, and his personal results were about as feeble in 2011 or 2010 with the San Francisco Giants. Those were fun teams to be on — especially with the Giants winning the World Series in '10 — but DeRosa knew he wasn't pulling his weight on the field.
"I was going to let baseball decide whether or not I was going to stop playing," DeRosa said. "The last three years were rough, obviously. It’s a large sample size and I haven’t played well, for reasons that I feel were uncontrollable. For Toronto to give me an opportunity, I was flattered. I wanted one more shot."
It's been a while since DeRosa could give it his best shot. Not long after the Cardinals acquired DeRosa from the Indians in late June 2009, he tore a tendon sheath on his left wrist. Surgeries followed in '09 and '10. In the seasons immediately before the injury, DeRosa was enjoying the most productive part of his career. Early in his career, DeRosa had developed a reputation for being a good clubhouse guy, and for being competently versatile on defense. But once he got the opportunity to play every day in 2006 with the Rangers, DeRosa showed he could hit, too. His wrist injury made contributing at the plate almost impossible.
But the good will DeRosa had accrued by being a good guy kept him in the league. And he knows it.
"I'm 100 percent grateful [for my reputation]," DeRosa said. "I like to think it’s my work-ethic and character. A lot of things play into it. I've been a guy who’s picked the brains of the great players that I’ve been fortunate to have been teammates with. I can be a sounding board for the younger guys now.
"I’ve learned a lot from coaches and players to shape my career. If I can give back a little and still be a viable option for Gibby to get out there and help the team win on the field as well, that’s the best of both worlds."
At this point in DeRosa's career, and in the Jays' development as playoff contenders, he will have to continue to show an ability to contribute at the plate. He has been optimistic since late January, not long after he signed. DeRosa could tell something was different in his wrist. It felt better.
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"I was hitting in the cages with Brian McCann," DeRosa said of the Braves catcher. "And he even said, ‘The ball’s coming off your bat like it did in ’08 and the early parts of ’09,’ and I’ve felt that too. I’ve been dealing with this for so long that I didn’t know if it was going to be a day-to-day process or how it was going to play out. But so far so good.
"The pain in the wrist has subsided, which is comforting. Obviously the stability and the strength in it is diminished a little bit, but not to the point where I can’t do my job."
Which is all DeRosa has wanted. It's what anyone would want.
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