DUNEDIN, Fla. — Already, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s knee feels better than it did when he exited a Grapefruit League game early two days ago.
On Sunday morning, he addressed his right-knee inflammation for the first time, describing it as “nothing serious, nothing major.” An MRI revealed no structural damage, but even so, the 23-year-old resolved to be patient with three and a half weeks remaining before opening day. That means taking it easy for the time being and withdrawing from the World Baseball Classic in order to prioritize his readiness for the Blue Jays.
“I’ve been feeling a lot better since that happened,” Guerrero Jr. said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “This (team) is the priority for me right now. And I’m feeling a lot better.”
Soon after officially cancelling his plans to join the Dominican Republic’s WBC team, he posted an Instagram story of a sleeping dog with the caption, written in Spanish, “sad just like me.” But on Sunday morning, he seemed to have accepted the fact that he would have to miss the tournament.
“When things like that occur, you’ve got to move on,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, but you got to move on. Of course it’s a difficult decision, but also when you have family and friends that support you with that decision it makes it easier.”
Asked about a potential timeline for Guerrero Jr.’s return, Blue Jays manager John Schneider said the first baseman is “the definition of day to day.” He wasn’t in the lineup Sunday, when the Blue Jays played the Philadelphia Phillies at TD Ballpark, and a scheduled day off Monday means at least one more day of rest.
While the Blue Jays haven’t formally mapped things out beyond Monday, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see Guerrero Jr. get a few more days to let the inflammation subside. Time is on their side right now, so there’s no point rushing anyone, let alone a player so central to their 2023 chances.
“We’re taking it slow with him,” Schneider said. “One day at a time, but he’s feeling better today than he did yesterday, so that’s a good thing.”
At this point, the plan calls for continued treatment and patience.
“He’s such a big dude that speeding up and slowing down is a thing for him to be aware of, but we’re pretty confident that with rest and treatment he should be good,” Schneider said.
If history offers any indication, Guerrero Jr. will do everything he can to take the field when it counts. In three full seasons at the big-league level, he has missed all of three games.
A two-time all-star, Guerrero Jr. has a lifetime .284/.358/.504 batting line at the big-league level, with an average of 33 home runs per 162 games played. There’s no replacing a bat of his calibre, but it’s worth noting that Brandon Belt (who took live batting practice with Alejandro Kirk Sunday morning) and Cavan Biggio represent the next layer of depth at first behind Guerrero Jr.
Prospect Spencer Horwitz, who was added to the 40-man roster, has also been impressing this spring, with quality at-bats against some high-level pitching. Like Belt and Biggio, though, Horwitz hits left-handed.
Of course, there’s currently no reason to believe Guerrero Jr. won’t be playing first base when the Blue Jays open their season in St. Louis on March 30. Missing the WBC hurts, but if that’s the price for being fully ready for his fifth season in the majors it’s one he’ll willingly pay.
“I’m going to take it easy. I’m not going to try to rush things,” Guerrero Jr. said. “I’ll keep working on getting my treatment and when my knee says it’s ready, then I’ll be ready.”