DETROIT, Michigan - The man in charge of the Blue Jays' infield defence acknowledges the early season struggles of Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis but says he's not concerned about the errors or the plays that should have been made but weren't.
"They're working on it," said third base coach Luis Rivera. "Those are two guys who are moving around, different situations, different positions. Those guys are playing positions that they've not (been) everyday guys so far. During their careers, they've played different positions and now they're getting used to playing one position, one time, all the time. I think they're fine; they both have good hands, good defenders and I have no worries about those guys."
With Brett Lawrie on the disabled list and unlikely to return from a strained ribcage muscle for at least another week, Izturis has received the bulk of the playing time at third base. That, in turn, has forced manager John Gibbons to start Bonifacio at second base more often than planned.
Izturis hasn't yet made an error but has struggled with range and footwork at third base and with the throw across the diamond to first.
Bonifacio has made four errors, including three in a nightmarish game last Friday against the Red Sox. He has booted routine ground balls and been inaccurate or late with throws. Bonifacio has, too, shown flashes of brilliance, including making two run-saving plays in the eighth inning in the win over Cleveland last week.
Rivera doesn't believe either player has taken to over-thinking.
"They're good players and it's too early for those guys to be thinking about that," he said. "It's a long season; you can have a tough day today and come back tomorrow. They're tough mentally, they both are tough kids."
Bonifacio was under the microscope early in Wednesday's game when, with one out in the first and runners on the corners, Prince Fielder hit a slow rolling double play ball to shortstop. Jose Reyes flipped the ball to Bonifacio, who appeared slow with the turn and throw. Fielder, who will never be confused with Usain Bolt, beat the throw to keep the inning alive and allow Austin Jackson to score from third.
"Fielder is a pull hitter so he was playing pull on that play," said Rivera. "It was a ground ball to shortstop and he was playing pull so it took him about 15 steps to get to the bag. When you go from that far off the bag and you've got to go (to your right), it's a tough situation. If the guy is playing his normal position, it's a routine double play. But because he was so far off, he's got to sprint to second base and then (throw across his body,) it's tough to do."
The Blue Jays don't doubt Bonifacio's arm strength, citing his history as an outfielder.
"Arm strength is there, he's just got to get used to throwing from a short distance, which is the thing that he needs to work on," said Rivera. "Sometimes he plays outfield, he's got to go long arm; he goes back to second base and he goes short arm. He's got to learn how to make sure he releases the ball when he throws short arm with the same speed he releases it when he goes long arm."
Izturis and Bonifacio take daily ground balls during batting practice. They move around the field, adjusting to the different angles and sightlines each position presents.
"It's tough because some guys can take a lot of ground balls in different positions everyday," said Rivera. "They go to third, they go to short, they go to second but that's hard to do because how many ground balls are you going to take a day? You've got to make sure, at least we try to figure out if they're going to play the next day in one position so they can take ground balls the day before or the same day they can take a little more ground balls. We try to make sure they know where they're going to play the day before so they can work on it."
There is no formal timeline for Lawrie's return. He could be back in time for, or during, next weekend's home series against the Yankees. Failing that, the Blue Jays are hopeful Lawrie will join the club on its next road trip, which begins April 22 in Baltimore.
Once Lawrie's on the field, Bonifacio and Izturis will platoon at second base, with Bonifacio getting the odd start in the outfield. The plan, as it was set out in the beginning, will fall in to place.
That time can't come soon enough.