TORONTO - Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello, who spent seven years buried in minor-league baseball's nether-regions, has had his major-league career put on hold for 80 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
Colabello, who at 32 has played just 225 games in the majors, will lose US$227,891 of his $521,126 major league salary.
Colabello said he was mystified by the positive test, which the commissioner's office said was for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone. Sold under the name Turinabol, it's the same anabolic steroid that caused Philadelphia pitcher Daniel Stumpf to be disciplined last week.
"On March 13, I got one of the scariest and most definitely the least expected phone calls of my entire life," Colabello said in a statement issued Friday by the Major League Baseball Players Association. "I was informed by the Players Association that a banned substance was found in my urine. I have spent every waking moment since that day trying to find an answer as to why or how? The only thing I know is that I would never compromise the integrity of the game of baseball. I love this game too much! I care too deeply about it.
"I am saddened more for the impact this will have on my teammates, the organization and the fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. I hope that before anyone passes judgement on me they can take a look at the man that I am, and everything that I have done to get to where I am in my career."
Outfielder Kevin Pillar supported his teammate.
"A guy like him would never do something like that. I believe him wholeheartedly," he said. "He's a guy, especially with all the odds he had to overcome to get to the big leagues, he would never jeopardize it by doing anything like that."
Ross Atkins, Toronto's GM and executive vice-president of baseball operations, said his initial reaction was a combination of "empathy (and) extreme disappointment."
"Chris is, as you guys know, a remarkable person," Atkins told reporters. "It's something that was extremely difficult for him and very emotional. (He was) very concerned about what it means for him moving forward and mostly what he expressed was how much he feels disappointed for the team."
Colabello is the sixth player suspended this year under the MLB drug program. New York Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia received a permanent ban following a third positive test, and Cleveland outfielder Abraham Almonte, Cincinnati outfielder Juan Duran, free-agent catcher Taylor Teagarden and Stumpf were suspended for 80 games each.
Colabello is batting just .069 this year. But he was a key contributor to the Jays last season when he hit .321 for the Blue Jays with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs.
Pillar said the positive drug test — which was followed by a failed appeal — hung over his teammate.
"For him to try to go out on the field what was going on … was difficult," said Pillar.
The six-foot-four 210-pound Colabello came to the big leagues the long way, playing in the independent leagues with Worcester and Nashua from 2005 to 2011.
After Baseball America named him Independent League player of the year in 2011, he signed with the Minnesota Twins. He played 55 games in the big leagues in 2013 and 59 in 2014 before signing a minor-league contract with the Jays for 2015.
"I love the guy," said Toronto manager John Gibbons. "He's fought the odds his whole life. He'll fight this."
Gibbons said Colabello was "beloved" by his teammates.
The Jays clubhouse was late opening prior to Friday's game against the Oakland Athletics. Asked if Colabello had spoken to the team, Gibbons said: "That's personal."
Third baseman Josh Donaldson also declined to discuss the team meeting. "I'm not going in that direction. Sorry," he said.
"I'm disappointed that it happened," added Gibbons. "But I've kind of got a special bond with the kid. I was the manager here when he kind of made it. So there's something there. He's a unique guy, he really is ... This hurts me just like it hurts him."
Atkins, who said the team will support Colabello, was not made aware of the drug test before Friday morning. "That was the first time that anyone in this organization outside of Chris knew."
But Pillar said he had know for some time.
"I've known about it for some time now, he told me about it in Tampa (where the Jays opened the season earlier this month), what he is going through," Pillar told reporters.
In some way, I feel like Chris being able to tell everyone lifted a huge burden off of him. It's an extremely tough secret to hold onto for long time," he added.
Justin Smoak, who had been platooning at first with Colabello, started at first base on Friday. Gibbons can also employ DH Edwin Encarnacion there.
The Jays, who have been short in the bullpen with Jesse Chavez feeling the effects of a sore back, called up left-handed pitcher Chad Girodo from Buffalo.
"He did a tremendous job in spring training, said Gibbons. "So now's his shot. We expect him to be good."
Gibbons said Drew Hutchinson will be summoned to pitch Sunday, to give the rotation a rest, necessitating another move.
The Jays gave left-fielder Michael Saunders and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki the night off, with Ezequiel Carrera starting in left, Ryan Goins shifting to shortstop and Darwin Barney starting at second.
Gibbons said Saunders's hamstring had flared up while Tulowitzki jarred his hip in a dive Thursday night."I don't think it's a big deal," he said of his shortstop.
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