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MacArthur: Without Reyes, Gibbons considers lineup tweaks

Scott MacArthur
4/5/2014 6:14:11 PM
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TORONTO – The absence of Jose Reyes from manager John Gibbons' lineup is forcing the skipper to do some less than desirable juggling.

The star shortstop's injury has been mitigated, somewhat, by the surprising offensive contribution of his replacement, Jonathan Diaz, but the bottom of the order remains subpar in an offence heavy division.

Then there's the number two spot in the order, vacated by Melky Cabrera, who's moved into Reyes' leadoff role. Colby Rasmus has occupied the bridge to Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion since Tuesday night in Tampa Bay. He's off to a slow start this season with just two hits in 22 at-bats (.090), striking out at a 40 per cent clip (10 times in 25 plate appearances).

The sample sizes are small and the Blue Jays believe Reyes will return on April 16, the day he's eligible to come off the disabled list, or soon after. Still, manager John Gibbons has considered something he did last year for part of the time Reyes was down, bumping up Bautista and Encarnacion in the lineup.

"We thought about it," said Gibbons. "Right now we want to kind of split the lefties up as much as possible, as far apart as we can. Colby's had some success in that two-hole in the past. Right now, the way he's swinging it's not ideal but, like I said, I think he's close."

For his career, Rasmus has struck out in 24.2 per cent of his plate appearances. That's not an ideal number for a top of the order guy and it's why the Blue Jays, when healthy, don't use him there.

"He's going to strike out," said Gibbons. "That's the kind of player he is. He's going to have some strikeouts. But I think he's real close."

"I don't ever like living with strikeouts," said hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, who says he speaks to Rasmus daily. "I think there's a way to patch things up, patch up holes and get yourself into a position with a mindset and an approach to where it gives you a better chance to barrel it up and not be vulnerable in certain counts, certain pitches, certain locations."

It may surprise you to learn Rasmus has played more games batting second, 239 times in his career, than in any other spot in the order. It isn't close, either. He's hit fifth 138 times, his second-most frequent spot in the order.

Rasmus' former manager, Tony La Russa, often hit him second. Those two are linked for their infamous falling out, although that wasn't related to Rasmus' spot in the lineup.

Seitzer is working with him on an adjustment related to where Rasmus' hands start when the pitcher comes set. Previously, Rasmus had been starting his hands away from his body, effectively out and over the plate. He now starts with his hands closer to his body.

"He's not comfortable with it because it's new," said Seitzer. "He hit all winter and all spring and I kind of had to let him go with his thing, getting to know him and getting used to him and then seeing what happens once the season starts. We're working on making adjustments. He's just got to get himself in good position to give himself the best chance."

The hitting coach wants the player to see the adjustment through.

"I don't care where guys start their hands as long as they get to their launch position in time, on time, every time. That's the only chance you have to hit big league pitching," said Seitzer.


HAPP'S REHAB START

J.A. Happ was scheduled to make a rehab start for the Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays on Saturday evening, weather permitting.

Happ is on the disabled list, back dated to March 26 so he's eligible to return on April 10, with back inflammation that's plagued him since early in spring training.


ROSTER MOVE

The Blue Jays designated right-hander Jeremy Jeffress for assignment after Friday night's game.

The intention was to recall Chad Jenkins from Triple-A Buffalo. In fact, the Bisons had issued a press release to that effect.

Turns out Jenkins isn't eligible to join the Blue Jays until April 10 because, as a player optioned to the minor leagues, he's required to spend 10 regular season days in the minors.

In Jenkins' place is Marcus Walden, whose contract was purchased and the player added to the 40-man roster.

Walden, a 25-year-old right-hander, was a ninth round selection of the Blue Jays in the 2007 draft.

To be clear on the option rule: there is an exception to the 10-day window for players recalled due to injury. Erik Kratz is an example. He was recalled when J.A. Happ was placed on the disabled list.

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