ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – It doesn't take John Gibbons long after setting foot in Tropicana Field to use his alternative name for the Rays monochrome home.
"House of horrors," joked the Blue Jays manager, just a couple of hours before the first pitch of the new season.
Asked about his star shortstop, his lead off hitter, Jose Reyes, Gibbons was unequivocal in expressing Reyes's importance to the Blue Jays' line-up.
"We need him," said Gibbons. "He makes things happen. We said last year, going into the season, probably the one guy we couldn't afford to lose would have been him. Then we lost him. Some other guys did a nice job filling in, but they aren't Reyes."
Little did Gibbons know that a short time later, after Reyes' lead off at-bat on Monday afternoon, he would again lose his shortstop.
Reyes, who missed five Grapefruit League games last week with what the Blue Jays called a "mild strain" of his left hamstring, experienced tightness as he ran down the line, thinking he had a single before Rays' centerfielder Desmond Jennings robbed him with a headlong, diving catch.
“When I hit the ball to centerfield, I saw the guy diving for the ball, I thought the ball was going to drop and bounce away from him,” said Reyes. “I tried to run a little bit faster between home plate and first base and I kind of felt my hammy there so I had to slow down and get out of the game.”
The Blue Jays lost the battle, 9-2 to the Rays. It remains to be seen whether the club has lost an important soldier in the broader war for a significant period of time.
Reyes was scheduled for an MRI either Monday evening or Tuesday.
“He irritated the same spot,” said Gibbons. “That's a concern.”
The 30-year-old has a history of hamstring problems, but nothing recent. Reyes tore his right hamstring in 2009; he had a left hamstring strain in 2011 and hasn't had hamstring issues since.
Reyes missed 66 games last year, his first as a Blue Jay, with a severely sprained left ankle suffered in the second week of the season.
“I feel okay walking around,” said Reyes. “But we're going to have better detail … when I get the new MRI. Hopefully I don't get it any worse because if I get it any worse that's going to be disappointing not just for me but for the entire team too.”
The Blue Jays' bench depth, which general manager Alex Anthopoulos has repeatedly identified as lacking, was forced into action almost right away when Reyes went down.
Ryan Goins, a natural shortstop, replaced Reyes in the leadoff spot. Goins wasn't in the starting lineup because he's a left-handed hitter and Rays' ace left-hander David Price is, to understate the matter, tough on lefties.
That created a situation where Maicer Izturis was hitting in the eight-hole, left-handed hitting Josh Thole in the nine-hole and Goins in the one-spot. Not an ideal way to turn the lineup over ahead of Melky Cabrera and the subsequent sluggers against Price, one of the best pitchers in baseball, to say the least.
If Reyes is forced to miss time, the Blue Jays' internal options include second baseman Chris Getz and shortstops Jonathan Diaz and Munenori Kawasaki. None is on the 40-man roster, which would necessitate another player to be designated for assignment and exposed to waivers.
The bottom line is if Reyes is out, any internal option results in a disconcerting lack of offence from both middle infield positions, further weakening the bottom of the order.
Casey Janssen was noticeably frustrated at having to begin the season on the disabled list with a strain on the left side of his abdomen and back.
“I don't know, maybe I was just compensating a little bit, trying to generate a little bit more power with my front side or what,” said Janssen. “It's disappointing because my arm is really starting to come around and then to have this little thing. It's not how I drew it up.”
Janssen is undergoing treatment but isn't throwing at the moment and hasn't re-started his weighted ball program exercises.
The plan is once the soreness subsides, Janssen will resume throwing off flat ground.
“I hate going on the DL,” he said.