Notes: Players visit soldiers

Notes: Players visit soldiers

BALTIMORE -- The next time Vernon Wells strikes out with runners in scoring position, or the next time John McDonald ponders whether to beg out of a game with a sore muscle, they'll think back to the several hours a contingent of Blue Jays spent at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

There, getting back on your feet meant more than breaking out of a slump or fighting for playing time.

Wells, McDonald and another dozen Blue Jays visited recovering soldiers as part of the Wounded Warrior Project. The trip was organized by McDonald's second cousin, R.J. Meade, whose organization provides assistance to injured service members between hospital recovery and their transition back to civilian life.

"It was an eye-opening experience," said McDonald, who was asked if he felt humbled. "How could it not be [humbling]? You have kids 20 and 25 years old who laid their life on the line for their country. You really appreciate it. We have little nicks and cuts and these guys come back without limbs. Guys are getting their lives back together, they're going to get a prosthetic and they're going to be jogging out of there."

Interacting with soldiers wounded in Iraq and other Middle East outposts -- many of whom had undergone amputations and were being fitted with prostheses -- gave Wells reason for a perspective check.

"If we have a bad day in the field, or we go 0-for-4, it's a bad day for us at work," Wells said. "If they have a bad day at work, they come back and they've lost limbs. It was an experience. It was uplifting to see how well they've handled what they've had to go through."

Manager John Gibbons, outfielders Adam Lind and Alex Rios, catcher Gregg Zaun and pitchers Jason Frasor and Roy Halladay were among the Blue Jays participating in Friday's visit. Many remembered last season in Anaheim, when McDonald welcomed a veteran in a wheelchair he'd met at Bethesda to the clubhouse.

"If we spend five minutes, if we spend a half-hour with a guy in there, maybe that takes his mind off of it. ... It's more of a distraction," Wells added.

Wells said he felt a tremendous sense of pride in the wounded veterans after Friday's encounter.

"The men and women who are over there fighting for their country want to be there. They're not crying to come back," he said. "They're there to do their jobs -- that's the way they feel. ... They're very passionate about it."

Lineup shifts: With hard-throwing right-hander Daniel Cabrera on the mound for the Baltimore Orioles in the opener of a weekend series, Gibbons juggled his lineup, seeking patient hitters and favorable match-ups.

"Get the lefties in there," Gibbons explained. "If you've seen the guy pitching, you know why."

Wells, a career .300 hitter with 23 home runs and 69 RBIs against the Orioles, took a seat. Though he's hit .287 with nine homers and 27 RBIs at Camden Yards, Wells is only 1-for-19 (.053) against Cabrera.

"[Gibbons] wants to give me a day. I told him I own [Cabrera]. I'm one for my last two against him -- I own him," Wells joked. "Forget that I'm, what, 1-for-20-something? ... . I tried to fight him a little bit, but he's the manager."

Lind, who has been hitting mostly second since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse to replace the injured Reed Johnson, was dropped to seventh in the order. He was replaced by Zaun, in a switch of a free-swinger for a more patient hitter.

Zaun batted second for the first time this year, the fifth spot in the lineup he's occupied.

"[Cabrera] walks a lot of guys," Gibbons said. "Zaun, he'll take a walk. Lind, he's more aggressive."

Eastern thoughts: Friday's game was the start of a seven-game road trip that will take the Blue Jays to three American League East cities. After three games in Baltimore, Toronto will play two apiece in Boston and New York.

Depending on who you ask, the Blue Jays' first road swing exclusively against divisional opponents is either a measuring stick for early-season success, or just a case of Toronto playing who and where it's scheduled.

Count Zaun among those who think a little too much is made of divisional play in April.

"We know what teams we're going to have to leapfrog to get to the postseason," Zaun said. "It's a nice measuring stick. But ultimately, we all play the same amount of games against each other and we all play the same amount of games against everybody else, too. They all count the same."

Wells is eager to see how the Blue Jays stack up in the East -- and thinks that April wins could mean for an easier stretch run in September.

"If you want to get things started on the right foot in your division, this is a huge series. Anytime you go on the road in your division, you want to make an impact. But it is early and you have to kind of put things in perspective," Wells said. "The more games you win now, the less you have to win later."

Sold out: As of Friday, the May 21 Hall of Fame Game, pitting the Blue Jays against the Orioles in Cooperstown, N.Y., is a sellout. A crowd of 9,571 is expected at Doubleday Field, where the Blue Jays have been designated the visiting team.

Coming up: Right-hander Josh Towers (1-1, 2.03 ERA), an ex-Oriole, faces his old team in the middle game of the series Saturday night at 7:05 ET. Left-hander Adam Loewen (1-0, 3.95 ERA) will pitch for Baltimore.

Pete Kerzel is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.