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MacArthur: Francisco's earned playing time

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Scott MacArthur
5/9/2014 10:01:16 PM
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TORONTO – Brett Lawrie's impending return from hamstring tightness creates a problem – a good problem – for manager John Gibbons. That is, how does he keep the red hot bat of Juan Francisco in the lineup when first base is taken by Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind is back as the designated hitter?

"Maybe Francisco can play second," joked Gibbons.

In all seriousness, Francisco has been a revelation for the ballclub since signing a minor league deal on April 2 and arriving in Cleveland to meet his new Blue Jays' teammates on April 20.

Coming off an 18-home run season split between Atlanta and Milwaukee last year, Francisco's already hit five in 61 at-bats for Toronto. He doesn't get cheated, either, having deposited one in the fourth deck of Rogers Centre, just above Paul Beeston's name on the Blue Jays' Level of Excellence.

Francisco's slash line of .311/.403/.623 (1.026 OPS) is well above his career .248/.308/.447 (.755 OPS) but even if his history suggests his numbers will regress the longer he plays, until it happens, Francisco needs to stay in the lineup.

"Right now we're looking at everything," said manager John Gibbons. "While he's hot we've got to find a way to keep him in there somehow."

The obvious play is to move Brett Lawrie to second base. It doesn't have to be permanent. Lawrie, should the decision be made, hopes it's only temporary.

"I'm going to do it because it's for the team but I'm not necessarily amazed about it," said Lawrie. "I'm a third baseman. It's where I play. It's what I've been doing. It's what I did to work to get here. Obviously Francisco is swinging a hot bat but we're going to have to find another way to get him in the lineup, who knows, but if I do get put at second base that's how it goes. I'll just do it for my team."

Look at this hypothetical starting lineup with Francisco at third base and Lawrie at second base:

Reyes – SS
Cabrera – LF
Bautista – RF
Encarnacion – 1B
Francisco – 3B
Navarro – C
Lind – DH
Lawrie – 3B
Rasmus – CF

One through nine, where's the easy out? The Blue Jays would be giving something up defensively with the realignment but Francisco has proven to be more adept at third base in Lawrie's absence than expected.

"I've been very impressed," said Gibbons. "I think that was his rap. His defence was the reason he never really established himself but we haven't seen it. Of course he's not Lawrie down there but how many guys are?"

Don't count on Saturday being Lawrie's return date. He took ground balls on Friday afternoon and participated in batting practice for a second consecutive day. It's part of the process of ramping up the effort level, testing his sore right hamstring.

"I've still got to do some other stuff baseball-wise," said Lawrie. "I've still got to get up to relatively full speed to see how we're doing. Ran on the treadmill today at a little bit higher pace so feeling a little bit better."

Lawrie's willing to be a team guy. He also wants the appropriate recognition for his gold glove caliber play at the hot corner.

"I'm a third baseman," said Lawrie. "I worked my butt off to get where I'm at. I'm not saying it's not going to help the team. I'm here to do what it is to help the team but I worked my butt off to be that good at third base and continue to do what I'm doing. I work everyday over there. Still continuing to get my work in and second base, it is what it is, man, it's not what I'm here to do. I worked my butt off to do what I do out there."

Juan Francisco  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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