NORTH PORT, Fla. — Earlier in his career, Jordan Luplow made the mistake of looking toward the future instead of focusing on the current day and being grateful for the opportunity to play baseball. He tortured himself mentally.
“It was one of those things where I just beat myself up so much, where if I’m going bad, it was just, like, the end of the world,” Luplow said. “It was just like, ‘I can’t believe I put in all this work, I’ve done all this. I should be getting results.’ It’s not always the case, and so it’s like, I’ve put myself through that situation and it didn’t come out good, either – any time I’ve done it.
“So it’s like, ‘Am I just gonna keep doing that, and feeling bad and down and feeling like I’m scratching and clawing to get back or should I just go try and make the best day that day?’”
He chose the latter.
This is the mindset he’s using in North Port, where he was part of a fierce battle for the final roster spots. Luplow, Kevin Pillar, Sam Hilliard and Eli White were competing to make the opening-day roster before the Braves optioned Luplow and White on Monday evening.
Luplow – who suffered a right oblique strain before reporting to camp but is now playing in spring games – is taking this day by day. Yes, this is a cliché used by baseball players around the sport. For Luplow, it’s more significant.
See, he has experienced the effects of beating himself up because his positive results didn’t bring the intended outcomes.
“I think it’s just that internal battle,” he said. “It’s a lot of you against yourself. You can go day in and day out (and say), ‘I’m gonna go all out today, I’m gonna do this and do that’ and you just grind yourself into the ground. And it’s just exhausting. You’re weeks in and you’re just drowning in your own -- not sorrows, but I can’t find the word right now.
“But you’ve just been putting so much pressure on yourself to just go and go and go, and try to get better. It’s not always the case. … It’s just a hole you don’t want to go down. I’ve been around long enough to where I can kind of see myself trending that way and kind of turn it back onto the right path.”
Due to the oblique strain, Luplow didn’t play in his first Grapefruit League game until March 12. But the outfielder has progressed well and seemed confident he’d be ready for opening day if the Braves were to put him on the roster.
“I really think I’m close and my timing’s getting there,” Luplow said. “The ball’s starting to slow down a little bit. Definitely the first few games, it looked like it was a BB out there.”
Of Luplow and the outfield situation, manager Brian Snitker said: “I mean, he’s another talented outfielder that is just right in the mix with all those other guys. He’s a ballplayer. I really liked that outfield depth that we’ve created all of a sudden, with guys that have been here. It’s just really good.”
In the days when he took his first live at-bats since straining his oblique, Luplow bounced back well. “I think that was a big mental game-changer for me,” he said. He felt ready to continue progressing. From there, he tried to stack one good day on top of the next.
At times, he felt a bit of soreness that would worry him a bit. But then he recovered well, erasing any fears of reaggravating the injury.
Oblique injuries can be scary because they’re unpredictable.
“A lot of guys say even after it heals, and they play for months, they still feel it,” Luplow said. “And so it’s one of those things where it’s like, is it your mind or is it your body telling you ‘No?’ What’s going on? Sometimes your mind can kind of play tricks on you a little bit with the obliques. So yeah, just kind of taking it a day at a time and seeing what makes it feel good. Trying to limit my swings. Be smart about it, even though it feels like I’m playing catch up a little bit. I just gotta be smart because health is number one. If I’m not on the field, I can’t do anything.”
Michael Soroka will start Wednesday
Michael Soroka, who reported to camp with a hamstring ailment, will make his Grapefruit League debut on Wednesday in Lakeland versus the Tigers.
“It’ll be great because the last live (batting practice) he threw, the reports were really good,” Snitker said. “I know when I saw him in the clubhouse, man, he was smiling and feeling good. So it’ll be cool.”
Last time out, Soroka threw two simulated innings. He could throw three innings in Lakeland.
Spencer Strider pitches into the sixth
Spencer Strider pitched into the sixth inning in a minor-league game on Monday. If he stayed on schedule, he would be ready to start the Braves’ second game of the season, though they haven’t officially announced anything.
This outing doesn’t count toward his official spring stats. In four Grapefruit League games to this point, Strider has allowed three runs over 12 innings, with 17 strikeouts and three walks.
Ronald Acuña Jr.’s return is imminent
Snitker didn’t know exactly when outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. would return after Team Venezuela was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic, but the manager said Acuña should be in Thursday’s lineup for a game in North Port versus the Mets.
Snitker said Acuña wouldn’t have been on the lengthy trip to Lakeland regardless.
Eddie Rosario, who played for Puerto Rico in the WBC and homered twice, returned to camp for Monday’s game. He hit seventh and started in left field. He went 1-for-3 and scored a run.
Charlie Morton staying back on Wednesday
Charlie Morton will stay back in North Port on Wednesday. He was lined up to pitch Tuesday, but the Braves have an off day.
On Wednesday, Morton will throw in a minor-league spring game, Snitker said.
If healthy, Morton is a lock for the rotation. In three Grapefruit League games, Morton has allowed five runs over 9-2/3 innings.