BALTIMORE - One unmistakable figure made his return to the Blue Jays on Saturday while another unmistakable figure was shipped out to make room for him on the roster.
Brett Lawrie is back. Munenori Kawasaki was set to join his teammates with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Lawrie was getting comfortable at his Oriole Park locker as the stall to his left, which belonged to Kawasaki, was being emptied of uniforms and baseball gear.
After 10 minor league rehab games, the last three of which were started at second base for the Bisons, Lawrie was at second against the Orioles and playing in his first major league game since spraining his ankle on May 27.
"It actually makes a little bit of sense to me," said Lawrie of playing second, which he did on Saturday for the first time in his major league career. "We can get more of our guys in the lineup. If I can play second base and play Eddie over at third maybe or even put Lindy at first base. The more guys we can get in the lineup the better of we're going to be. Wherever I can help the team."
It took 93 games but, finally, manager John Gibbons has Lawrie and shortstop Jose Reyes on the field together for the first time.
"We're excited to have Brett back," said Gibbons. "It's been a while. They both had the same type of injury and that takes a lot of time so it's two days before the All-Star break, figured we'd get him up here, let him play a couple of games and then go from there."
Gibbons is hoping Lawrie can provide a spark to a club which has dropped 12 of 18 games since a franchise record-tying 11-game winning streak ended on June 24.
In his most recent game with the Bisons, Lawrie struck out four times and walked in five plate appearances. He struck out seven times in 13 plate appearances in three games for Buffalo.
Still, Lawrie says he's feeling more comfortable in the batter's box each day.
"It's definitely on the way back," he said. "I was seeing the ball every game. I saw the ball a little bit better, a little bit better down there so I just took some reps and I feel like I'm definitely on the mend."
After an 0-for-4 day on Saturday, in 38 major league games this season, Lawrie has a slash line of .203/.261/.364. The Blue Jays have acknowledged Lawrie was rushed back from a rehab assignment in April, as he was recovering from an oblique strain suffered before the World Baseball Classic, because of the void left when Reyes injured his ankle. The club attributes some of Lawrie's offensive inconsistency to the early activation.
Whether Lawrie ends up a full-time second baseman, whether he goes back to playing third or whether he's a hybrid depends on a number of factors not limited to his performance.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has talked about Lawrie's versatility giving the Blue Jays options. While Anthopoulos wouldn't speculate on the degree to which he'll be involved in the trade market leading up to the July 31 non-waiver deadline, should he acquire an infielder it's likely to affect Lawrie's position on the field.
In the meantime, Gibbons wants to see how Lawrie takes to a position he hasn't played since his days in the Brewers' system.
"I think he'll adjust just fine," said Gibbons. "He used to play second base. He's a good athlete. He's got all the skills you need to play anywhere on that field so yeah, we'll see how it plays out, see how he does there and we'll go accordingly."
"I like to differentiate between the two," said Lawrie. "I like how third base, I like how square I am to the field and stuff like that. It allows me to use my athleticism and quickness right off the bat. I like second base as well because I have a lot more ground to cover. I've got ground to cover to my right, to my left, double play balls and stuff like that. I like the challenge and I'm definitely up for it. I've done it before for my first two seasons so I'm pretty comfortable over there and ready to have some fun."
As for Kawasaki, the popular utility man likely hasn't made his last appearance in a Jays' uniform.
He could be recalled in the event of another injury and because Kawasaki remains on the 40-man roster, he is a prime candidate for recall when the rosters expand in September.