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Despite challenges, Blue Jays’ Biggio learning from injury-riddled season

Despite challenges, Blue Jays' Biggio learning from injury-riddled season

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TORONTO – Cavan Biggio never took his eyes off Martin Cervenka’s drive into the right-centre field gap and had a good beat on the ball as he laid out to make the catch. Unbeknownst to him, Josh Palacios was doing the exact same thing charging hard from centre field and they met in a frightening spin cycle of momentum.

Luckily, Palacios managed to push himself up and over Biggio to prevent an even more dangerous collision. The ball skipped through them, Cervenka ended up at third where he was stranded to end the seventh inning and both outfielders finished a 3-1 Buffalo Bisons win over the Syracuse Mets on Aug. 20, although Biggio wondered why his elbow hurt so much after.

“It was kind of a gnarly little play,” he recalls. “We dove into each other and it was a little bit of everything. I reached out for it full extension and then my arm almost snow-angeled underneath me and then I rolled on top of it. I didn’t even realize that happened because it happened so quickly. I watched the replay and I was like, that’s why my elbow hurts.”

This is what Biggio saw:

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The full extent of the damage was revealed a couple of days later, when Biggio was diagnosed with a Grade 1 sprain of the ulnar-collateral ligament in his left elbow, the latest injury in his ailment-filled year. While he remains in a prescribed hitting shutdown waiting for the pain and inflammation to subside, he recognizes how fortunate he was, noting “a lot worse can happen.”

And he remains optimistic that he’ll be able to resume hitting soon, maybe next week if not soon after, a precursor to a quick rehab assignment back in Buffalo and a return from the injured list.

“I do think there’s a window for me to come back,” says Biggio. “That window could be anywhere from a week to a couple of weeks, but I’m looking more on the positive side of things and trying to get back as soon as possible. I understand my year hasn’t gone the way that I wanted it to besides the injuries, when you look at the numbers and all that. I’m not really worried about that too much. I’m just worried about getting back on the field and helping this team any way that I can, whether that’s playing multiple positions, wherever I need to play, pinch-running, doing what I do on the basepaths, just whatever I’ve got to do.

“We’ve got a special team and it’s an important stretch right here.”

Of that there’s little doubt as the Blue Jays face a moment of truth over the next week with three games against the Oakland Athletics beginning Friday at Rogers Centre, followed by four in the Bronx against the New York Yankees.

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Both are teams they are chasing in the wild-card standings and if the Blue Jays are intent on making a move, they can’t afford a poor showing that will further close off their already clogged pathways to the post-season.

The additions of Nate Pearson and Bryan Baker on Wednesday added a dose of velocity to a bullpen in need of more swing and miss, Julian Merryweather’s return is on the horizon, Danny Jansen and his valued game-calling is back and Biggio’s potential return could provide another lift.

Even in the midst of what the 26-year-old describes as the most challenging he’s ever experienced, he offers some of what the Blue Jays have been missing in recent weeks as they’ve struggled to score runs.

To that end, GM Ross Atkins says he told Biggio that “as you get back to hitting, which we hope is very soon, just be yourself – it’s exactly what we need, yourself and not more. And we’ll take less. We don’t need 100 per cent of Cavan every day, but that approach and the handedness and his at-bats would be a big jolt for us.”

What’s reasonable to expect from Biggio, who’s batting .215/.316/.350 in 290 plate appearances across 77 games, is another matter.

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In many ways, he’s been chasing his season from the jump as finger injuries both in spring training and early in the season hampered him at the plate, a neck issue later sent him to the injured list and after he came back, a back problem sent him back there. He was rehabbing that when he made that fateful dive for the ball, extending a season filled with stops and starts that made it difficult to establish consistency, especially as he tried different approaches at the plate.

Focal points on the interrupted rehab assignment were making sure he was seeing the ball better than he had been and freeing up his hands, an issue that crept up as he began wrapping his hands around his head too much, preventing him from effectively pulling the ball.

“Obviously, I want use the whole field but being able to pull the ball is really important for the type of hitter I am,” Biggio says. “I felt pretty confident where I was.”

The physical piece has been a factor all season, too, as he often felt uncertain about what his body would allow him to do before a game began.

“Knowing how your body is going to feel, for the most part, gives you a little bit of confidence,” Biggio says. “Coming into the ballpark every day, not knowing how you’re going to feel, or one specific thing is going to feel better and it keeps getting better and then it gets worse one day – it can be challenging on how to get that better for that game, and for the rest of the season.”

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All of that disrupted his long-established routines, which were built solely around game preparation.

Suddenly, “it changed a little bit where a lot more time was devoted to getting my body to feel better and then get ready for the game,” he explains. “It was almost like a workload management type thing and learning how to deal with certain things and what’s going on with my body and whatnot and then getting ready for a game. So it was just very challenging, that aspect.”

That’s why for better or worse, he describes this season as an important learning experience, despite the challenges, despite the frustrations. Never before has he had to deal with going on and off the injured list with such regularity, but the ability to recover from injuries is a necessity for anyone intent on having a long career. That’s the bigger picture. For now, more pressing matters remain.

“I’m obviously looking forward to getting my body to feel better, but know I’m looking more forward to getting back on the field, feeling good or not,” says Biggio. “I just want to help this team win.”

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