Brett Lawrie has been forced off Canada's roster with a rib strain one day before the team's first game at the World Baseball Classic.
The Toronto Blue Jays third baseman, who felt discomfort in his left side during an exhibition game against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, said he was disappointed but felt it was more important to keep healthy with the major-league season quickly approaching.
"It's tough for me but it's tough on everybody," said Lawrie during a team workout at Chase Field in Phoenix on Thursday.
"This is a situation that doesn't come around a whole lot, and just to have it kind of taken away just from something so small like this is frustrating for me just because I've worked so hard this off-season and this whole spring training to get myself ready for this."
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said the team expected Lawrie to be out two to three weeks "on the conservative side" and could be ready for opening day. A right oblique injury cost Lawrie two months with Toronto last season.
"I asked him about last year and he said what he had last year was 10 times worse than this," Anthopoulos said from Baltimore's spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla., where the Blue Jays were facing the Orioles in exhibition play. "But he knows obviously there was something there and he was smart to take himself out. He felt something going to his left on a groundball and felt something on a swing but he was smart enough having been through it to not take any chances.
"He'll be back on Monday, he'll get some more exams, but he said it has improved today. It's just one of those things that you need to rest. It's very mild, which is certainly good news, and they're saying two-to-three weeks on the really conservative side which means there's obviously a chance that it's sooner than that."
'This is not something that can be healed overnight nor the next day.' — Canada's Brett Lawrie says of his strained rib
There's no timetable for Lawrie's return, although a spokesman for the Blue Jays said the team expected he would be out two to three weeks. A right oblique injury cost him two months with Toronto last season.
The Langley, B.C., native said he made the mistake of trying to play injured last year and that he had learned from the experience. Playing a handful of games for Canada, Lawrie said, wasn't worth risking his major-league season.
"It needs time to heal," he said. "This is not something that can be healed overnight nor the next day. Only time will tell. So as of right now I'm still part of Team Canada but I don't think I will be competing in the first round, probably nor the next.
"Now it's all about getting myself ready for the beginning of the season. Paying my dues to my club and trying to get myself back to square one and trying to get myself healthy and that's the number one goal right now."
Anthopoulos said Lawrie's experience with injuries helped him make an informed choice on how to handle the rib strain.
"I think so because last year I remember it happened and he was like 'Oh, I just need a day or two. I'll play, I'll play through it.' He didn't realize, he didn't know what it was," Anthopoulos said. "Having gone through the experience, it was 10 times worse last year, and he missed about six weeks or something. The fact that it's mild, that he caught it early means he shouldn't miss too much time."
The loss of Lawrie is poor timing for Canada, which begins opening-round play against Italy on Friday at 2:08 p.m. ET.
Manager Ernie Whitt said there probably isn't time to find a replacement before the game. Milwaukee Brewers infielder Taylor Green will likely play third base, while first baseman Jimmy Van Ostrand could also see some time in the position.
"It's definitely a blow to this team, but sometimes in baseball you have things that you have to overcome, and hopefully we'll be able to overcome this," Whitt said.
Canadian pitcher Chris Leroux, who will start Saturday's round-robin game against Mexico (2:30 p.m. ET), said Green is an adequate fill-in at the hot corner. The 26-year-old from Comox, B.C., hit .184 with three home runs in 103 at-bats for the Brewers last season.
"He’s a good player, a left-handed hitter which is always good to have in the lineup," said Leroux of Green in a phone interview with CBCSports.ca. "Brett has more major league experience than Taylor and would have been a great asset but we have to move on.
"Obviously, Brett’s a good player and is going to be missed but you can’t sit in the corner and cry."
Lawrie's news came the same day Reds slugger Joey Votto joined Canada for the first time. Votto, the team's best batter, had held out committing to Canada until Monday while he made sure his knee was healthy following surgery last year.
Instead Votto, and the game against Italy, became a sideshow to a team now missing a vital right-handed bat in the lineup heavy with lefties. Lawrie was just 19 at the 2009 WBC and only played as a pinch runner. Now a star with the Blue Jays, he was expected to make his mark at the international tournament.
Blue Jays come 1st
"I just hope he gets healthy," Votto said. "This is a tournament that has some meaning, but ultimately his job and his obligation is to the Toronto Blue Jays. Hopefully a minor injury that doesn't keep him from making opening day and I imagine the Blue Jays hope the same."
'Hopefully we can go out there and pick up the slack for him.' — Canadian pitcher Shawn Hill said of injured 3B Brett Lawrie
Shawn Hill, who will start for Canada on the mound against Italy, said Lawrie's departure is discouraging to a team looking to make a breakthrough at the WBC. Canada failed to advance past the first round in '06 and '09.
"It's a loss," Hill said. "I don't know if you would say devastating because we still are going to go out there, we're going to play, we got our other bats. But no question it's a loss. I think just more disappointment. Frustration. Obviously disappointment for feeling bad for Brett. I know he wants to play and was looking forward to playing.
"So it's you feel bad for him, but hopefully we can go out there and pick up the slack for him and he can kind of enjoy it with us in that way."
Canada enters the game against Italy with bitter memories of the upset loss that knocked them out of the competition four years ago. Canada had pushed the United States in a 6-5 defeat, but lost its offence in a 6-2 defeat to the Italians.
Beating Italy on Friday will be paramount to Canada with difficult Pool D games following against Mexico on Saturday and the United States on Sunday. The top two teams in each pool advance to the second round in Miami.
Move on or go home, Canada will do it without Lawrie. He said he would stay to support the team before returning to the Blue Jays' spring training home in Dunedin, Fla.
"I just feel like I've kind of, not let them down, but in a sense that I want to be out there with them," said Lawrie. "I think I'm a piece of that puzzle and I really wanted to be in and just to kind of have something like this sideline me and what's going on is frustrating."