CLEVELAND – What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago Jose Reyes spent part of April on the disabled list with a severely sprained left ankle but there was no clear return date in sight.
On Saturday, Reyes was back from a strained left hamstring. There was greater clarity this time around. He didn't expect to be out much longer than the 15 days he was required to spend on the disabled list. Turns out he was right.
"Real happy just to be back with my teammates, see my guys again," said Reyes. "More happy that I'm going to be on the field, playing and doing what I love to do, just play baseball."
The Blue Jays technically went 9-7 in Reyes' absence but he was a non-factor on Opening Day, reinjuring the hamstring that gave him trouble during spring training while running to first base in his lead off at-bat. In fact, when Reyes took his shortstop position on Saturday afternoon it was his first time in the field this season.
For manager John Gibbons, who been able to field his preferred lineup far too infrequently since the start of last year, the return of Reyes means an opportunity to reset the lineup.
"It's the way it's supposed to look," said Gibbons. "Hopefully he gets us going a little bit more. He adds a little bit more offence. It's good to have him back."
Just as Reyes returns, the Jays formally lose Adam Lind through at least April 30 after he was placed on the disabled list with stiffness in his lower back.
In steps Juan Francisco, who hit 18 home runs in 348 bats for the Atlanta Braves and Milwuakee Brewers last season. Like Lind, Francisco will be a designated hitter who can spell Edwin Encarnacion at first base. He'll likely start at first base on Sunday. Francisco can play third base in a pinch, although he didn't get the call up for his defence.
Since signing a minor league deal with the Blue Jays on April 2 following his spring release by the Brewers, Francisco has posted a .341/.420/.568 slash line with two home runs and 11 RBI for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
Blue Jays brass wrestled with the decision, Francisco or Dan Johnson, who's also off to a strong start with Buffalo (.318/.466/.591, three home runs, 10 RBI).
"Francisco worked out, he can hit a little bit," said Gibbons. "He's got some juice in that bat so hopefully he can add something while Lindy's out."
It's one of baseball's mysteries as to why a guy like Francisco can't find a permanent home in the major leagues. He's a left-handed bat and while not a batting average or on-base machine, at 26 years old and with his fourth big league Francisco's been around long enough to be, at the very least, a contributor off the bench.
"I've got no idea," said Gibbons. "Guys that make it in the big leagues and establish themselves, there have got to be some opportunities. I know he's had some opportunities but it's got to be in the right organization. They've got to like you. They've got to throw you out there no matter what. But he's got some talent. Hopefully he shows up."
DIAZ READY FOR ANYTHING
Now that Jose Reyes has returned, Munenori Kawasaki is back in Buffalo, and with the Blue Jays committed to giving Ryan Goins the majority of playing time at second base, especially against right-handed pitching, Jonathan Diaz settles into a utility role.
Diaz hasn't played much outfield in his professional career but he's worked hard on the craft during batting practice.
"I've always loved to shag my entire career ever since I can remember," said Diaz. "Every time I'm done my ground balls I go out there and power shag and I enjoy it. I feel like that's prepared me throughout my life to be ready for this opportunity."
The Blue Jays transferred Maicer Izturis to the 60-day list, formalizing his protracted absence, and despite his selection over Kawasaki, Diaz lamented the tough decisions that had to be made.
"I was just saying earlier, we're all buddies, we all wish we could all stick around," said Diaz. "Kawasaki's such a great teammate but, you know, that's the way the game goes. Luckily I was able to stick around and I'm going to go out there and work hard at every position I can because I know I'm going to be that guy filling in a role."