TORONTO – Jose Bautista is nearing a return to the Blue Jays' lineup and pinch hit in the sixth inning of Sunday's series finale against the White Sox.
Batting for Dioner Navarro with runners on the corners and the Jays down 2-0 at the time, Bautista grounded out to end the inning.
Fans who arrived to watch batting practice were treated to Bautista's first public testing of his injured left hamstring. He was running sprints in the outfield; he estimated at about 50 to 60-percent effort and admitted to feeling some pain, which he said he expected.
Bautista will work out on Monday's off day and is hopeful of being in the starting lineup on Tuesday when the Jays play a Canada Day matinee against the Brewers. He hasn't been in the starting lineup since removing himself in the third inning of the June 22 loss in Cincinnati.
"You know, it's huge," said Bautista of avoiding the disabled list.
Then he offered a precautionary thought: "Obviously that's still not in the plans but you never know how things are going to respond," said Bautista. "I just want to make it clear that I can get back into playing and because there's a previous injury there anything can happen. I'm not trying to jinx it or anything but that's just reality."
Bautista has been hitting in the underneath batting cage.
"I feel like hitting is much easier right now than running," he said.
While it's superfluous to suggest the Blue Jays miss Bautista when he's not in the lineup the matter became more pronounced as the club faced three Chicago lefthanders over the weekend.
After two home games versus Milwaukee, against right-handed starters, the Jays kick off their next road trip with four games in Oakland. The A's will throw three left-handers at the Blue Jays in that series.
Bautista's done serious damage to southpaws this year. Seven of his 15 home runs have been hit off of lefties. He's accomplished that in only 57 at-bats. His on-base plus slugging percentage sits at an otherworldly 1.329.
Combine Bautista's absence with the predominantly right-handed lineup manager John Gibbons has played this weekend, featuring Triple-A call ups Brad Glenn and Darin Mastroianni, and offence has been in relatively short supply. Left-handed hitters Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus, when they've played, have struggled as the numbers would suggest they would.
Bautista isn't committing to whether he'll be Tuesday's designated hitter or take his usual spot in right field.
"If I come in and feel 100-percent and great and go out on the field and play defence and I could not feel 100-percent and ask to DH instead of playing the field," said Bautista. "It all depends on how I feel on Tuesday and I won't know that until Tuesday."
If Bautista's hamstring limits him to the designated hitter's role, that likely removes Adam Lind from the Canada Day starting lineup. Against a right-handed starting pitcher, that's less than ideal.
Should Bautista declare himself fit to play right field, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind would both play, one as the designated hitter and the other at first base.