While Blue Jays infielders Josh Donaldson and Devon Travis acknowledge they've had to make adjustments to account for the softer, slower surface, they also say they feel less wear and tear on their bodies. But the Baltimore Orioles were not impressed by the new turf earlier this week and reportedly considered boycotting a game after shortstop Jimmy Paredes was hit in the face by a ball that took a weird bounce during batting practice.
The new turf was installed in the off-season as the stadium prepares to have an all-grass field by 2018. The new artificial surface has black rubber pellets filling in between the plastic blades of grass that make running easier on the joints, but also slow down the ball considerably.
"It's different. It's not always bouncing the way you think it's going to bounce. It makes it tough," Donaldson said Thursday. "At the end of the day we're athletes, we're paid to make those adjustments.
"It's going to take a little bit of time, I'm starting to get a little bit better feel for it."
Travis, a rookie second baseman, agrees the turf is an adjustment but added that it also depends on who is at the plate.
"If the guy can really run I definitely play a couple more steps in," said Travis. "On the other side, guys that are big hitters, that don't run as well, you can actually play a little further back. It's definitely a happy medium."
The turf is still relatively untested as Toronto has only played 10 home games this season, finishing a lengthy stay at Rogers Centre with a 5-5 record that included a three-game sweep of the Orioles.
The Baltimore Sun reported that the Orioles considered boycotting Tuesday's game — a 13-6 Blue Jays' win — after the Paredes incident and had lodged a formal complaint with Major League Baseball over the turf. A source told The Canadian Press on Friday that there has not been a formal complaint made to MLB.
The pellets also caused an issue during Toronto's home opener when Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera got some rubber pellets in his eye when he was fielding a ground ball.
"They do kick up a lot, but I haven't really found any in my shoes or in my socks or anything like that," said Travis.
Another strange play saw a Travis bunt bounce back toward home plate and past charging Rays catcher Rene Rivera in Toronto's 2-1 loss to Tampa on April 13.
"It's hard because you're used to turf being fast and somewhat bouncy, and this is kind of the exact opposite," said Donaldson. "It's slower, almost like a golf green. Sometimes when balls hit into it kind of checks up and spins different ways."
Statistically, Rogers Centre is average so far this season.
Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) measures how many of a batter's balls in play go for hits, excluding home runs. Rogers Centre's BABIP this season is .284, tied with Texas's Rangers Ballpark at 19th in the majors. There are seven fields around MLB with BABIPs between .281 and .285.
"It's helped us and it's hurt us. I don't hear any complaints," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons on Thursday. "Guys bodies feel OK. But a lot of that's probably too that it's early in the season," added Gibbons. "But I think that's the whole idea behind it anyway — to physically help them."
Although Donaldson finds fielding on the new turf difficult, he's already feeling the benefits of the softer playing surface compared to his time as a visitor with the Oakland Athletics last season.
"I think (fielding) would be the difficult part about it," said Donaldson. "But what I think is an advantage of it is my body definitely feels better from playing just from this homestand than playing three games here last year."
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