Thomas benched for time being
Designated hitter, mired in early slump, frustrated with decision
TORONTO -- Frank Thomas received an unexpected call into Blue Jays manager John Gibbons' office on Saturday morning. The message was that the omission of the designated hitter's name from Toronto's starting lineup isn't simply a one-day switch.
At least for now, Thomas has been informed that he's going to reside on the Jays' bench -- a result of another early season slump for the veteran. Sitting in front of his locker prior to Toronto's game against Detroit, Thomas expressed frustration over the change and questioned whether there was more to the move than mere statistics.
"Basically, I've been told that I'm not going to be in that lineup," Thomas said. "Gibby told me that this morning. I see it as something else is going on. We'll see how that plays out.
"You know what's going on and I know what's going on. We'll see how it plays out. I'm just a little frustrated right now. There are some things going on around here this year that I haven't been happy about."
Thomas could've been alluding to his contract situation, which has been an ongoing topic since the early stages of Spring Training. Under the terms of the two-year deal Thomas inked with Toronto prior to last season, the 39-year-old DH has a vesting option worth $10 million for the 2009 season.
Thomas can guarantee that salary for next year simply by notching 304 more plate appearances this year. His contract stipulated that the option would vest for Thomas, who had 624 plate appearances last season, if he accumulated 1,000 plate appearances between the 2007-08 seasons.
A $10 million salary is a hefty price tag for a slugger who will turn 41 years old next season, especially if Thomas' production continues to falter. Thomas is quick to point out that slow starts are nothing new for him, though. His struggles this month are similar to woes he experienced early on in each of the past two seasons.
"A slow start is part of the game," Thomas said. "I'm not the only ... hitter in the game with a slow start. I repeatedly hit the ball on the nose the last seven or eight games. I'm just not having any luck right now, but I've hit the ball hard.
"That's all you can do in this game, is hit the ball hard. That's basically all I can control. Sooner or later they find holes and they fall. But to beat myself up over it? No, I'm not going to do that. I did my job."
Through 16 games this season, Thomas is hitting .167 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 72 plate appearances. He's managed a .306 on-base percentage and a .333 slugging percentage along the way, and he's hit just .114 in his past nine games. Throughout his career, April is the lone month that Thomas has a sub-.300 average.
Thomas, who is under contract for $8 million this year, hit just .217 with eight homers and 22 RBIs through his first 55 games last season -- his first with Toronto. Over his final 100 contests, though, Thomas regained his rhythm and posted a .308 average with 18 homers and 73 RBIs.
It was very similar to Thomas' showing in 2006, when he got off to a rough start with the Oakland A's. Through his first 37 games of that season, Thomas hit .197 with nine homers and 22 RBIs. Like this past year, though, he turned it up a notch over the final 100 games, hitting .298 with 30 home runs and 92 RBIs.
The Blue Jays can only hope that a similar rebound is in store for Thomas.
"You've got to bank on that and you hope that's the case," Gibbons said.
There are concerns within the organization that Thomas' struggles aren't simply part of another slow start, though. That's one reason why Matt Stairs, who started at DH on Saturday, could potentially occupy Thomas' spot in the lineup more often, though Gibbons wouldn't say as much.
Recently, Thomas has noticeably altered his stance, crouching more at the plate to move into his hitting position earlier in his swing. That can be a sign of Thomas trying to find a way to start his swing faster to better catch up with pitches, though he downplayed any significance in the slight change.
"That's nothing new," Thomas said about the change to his stance. "Some days I'm up and some days I'm down. That's just the way I do things."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.