TORONTO - Jose Reyes is at the ballpark long before his teammates arrive, working toward a return from injury that can't come quickly enough for the player and for the Blue Jays.
Quietly, which is a relative term when it comes to the affable shortstop, Reyes is doing his rehab. Come game time, Reyes is his vocal self as he roots on his teammates from his dugout perch.
"I'm anxious to come back," Reyes, adorned in a sleeveless Superman t-shirt, told TSN.ca. "We haven't played the level that everybody was expecting. This team is better than the record shows. We need to turn it around as soon as possible because our division is not easy at all. It's hard to gain ground. Like I said I just want to be there, I'm going to continue to work hard every day doing my rehab from eight o'clock in the morning from the time I work out, my rehab."
The recovery from a badly sprained left ankle is tedious; it happens in baby steps.
For two weeks, Reyes was in a cast, followed by two more weeks in a walking boot. The time was spent at his New York home.
He rejoined the club last week and on Friday, unencumbered by any type of ankle bracing, he began light sprints.
Reyes expects to begin taking batting practice and ground balls on Monday or Tuesday. These "baseball activities," as they're called, are another step toward recovery but shouldn't be misconstrued as a fast-tracking of the rehab process.
"The key is going to be running, you know, the bases and stuff like that because you can take a ground ball right in front of you and you feel good," said Reyes. "You can take BP and you feel good but when it comes to running and jumping around in a real game it's a different story."
There's no timeline for Reyes' return to game action, which will begin with a minor league rehab assignment. Until then, he'll remain with the club under the watchful eyes of head trainer George Poulis and strength coach Bryan King. His presence is appreciated, particularly by the younger Dominican-born players.
"They're good impressions for me to play with a guy like that," said reliever Esmil Rogers. "He's so happy to play the game and to come to the stadium with the same attitude. They show me it doesn't matter what day you've got, every day is a new day."
Reyes admits to injury-related boredom. He's always moving, always invested. He watches the games closely and offers teammates insight on pitchers' tendencies and other trends while keeping the dugout loose.
"That's the way it is. When I'm not playing I don't know what to do. It's kind of crazy for me," said Reyes. "Some guys, they don't want me in the dugout, they want me playing in the field because they say I'm messing around too much. That's the way I am, nobody is going to change that for me. I like to enjoy, I like to be around my teammates. That's why I'm going to continue to do my rehab with the ballclub because I want to be here."
Reyes was off to a hot start. In 10 games, he was hitting .395/.465/.526 and was successful in each of his five stolen base attempts. In a disappointing season in which the fan base is looking for reasons to be optimistic, Reyes' return is one of them.
He wants to rein in the expectations.
"People have to understand this is going to be a process because I've been away from baseball for a little while," said Reyes. "Everything is not coming right away. Like I said I'll do everything to bring my talent to the field and help this ballclub. Hopefully it won't take that long. Hopefully when I come out, I come out ready to go and people can see the real Jose Reyes."
ROGERS LIKELY TO START WEDNESDAY
Reliever Esmil Rogers, who pitched the final three innings of Friday night's 10-6 Blue Jays loss to Baltimore, is expected to start Wednesday night's game in Atlanta.
Rogers threw a full bullpen session on Sunday morning and told TSN.ca he wasn't available for the series finale against the Orioles and likely wouldn't be available for Monday's and Tuesday's games versus the Braves.
If Rogers gets the ball on Wednesday he would become the 11th different starting pitcher for the Blue Jays this season.