The long-awaited Blue Jays debut of George Springer is inching closer, and the star center fielder will get into some game action on Friday at the club's alternate training site in Dunedin, Fla.
Springer will play the field, and in the environment of an intrasquad game, the Blue Jays can control his at-bats and baserunning throughout. This weekend's series against the Rays remains a possibility for Springer, but if it's not this weekend, the Blue Jays will make the short trip home to Dunedin for a two-game set against the Nationals beginning Tuesday.
“We just want to see how he responds and how he feels, then how he’s feeling later into the game with multiple at-bats,” general manager Ross Atkins said Thursday. “Then we’ll see how he recovers the next day before we make that decision.”
Springer originally strained an oblique muscle in Spring Training, but as he was rehabbing that injury, he suffered a low-grade strain to his right quad. That's what has been holding the 31-year-old back, and given the nature of that injury, his running on the bases and in the field will be the final hurdle for him to clear.
This Blue Jays lineup will take on a significantly different look with Springer back, and they need him. Toronto has leaned heavily on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and, at times, Bo Bichette, but it's received inconsistent contributions from the rest of the order. The leadoff spot has been an issue, too, with Marcus Semien struggling early. Cavan Biggio got the nod in the No. 1 spot in Wednesday's 6-3 win against the Red Sox, but this lineup will be at its best with Springer at the top.
That's how manager Charlie Montoyo was rolling out his lineup late in camp, with Springer typically followed by Semien, Bichette and Teoscar Hernández. That top four seems less likely now, particularly given that Guerrero has forced his way up the lineup with an incredible start, but Springer's combination of on-base percentage and power should give this group a shot of life.
Springer's debut will also balance the club's defense, moving Randal Grichuk back to right field, where he can be an above-average defender in Hernández's absence. The majority of Toronto's defensive troubles have come on the infield through April, but Atkins believes that Springer will bring significant value in the field.
Pearson ramping up
Nate Pearson, who is the club's No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, will throw two to three innings on Friday in that same intrasquad game as he builds up his workload as a starter. Pearson, who strained his right adductor late in camp, has been working through a “Spring Training” of sorts at the Blue Jays’ alternate training site. Next week, he’ll make a start of three to five innings.
“After that, I think he could become an option depending upon how those go,” Atkins said. "We want to be very thoughtful that we're putting him in a good position as well as he's a very young player.”
Other injury notes
• Hernández, who tested positive for COVID-19 early last week, has to clear one final test on Friday to re-enter the Blue Jays’ environment. At that point, the Blue Jays will evaluate where he’s at physically and how much additional time he’ll need.
• Julian Merryweather (left oblique strain) won’t be throwing for a couple of weeks, Atkins said. That’s tough news for this bullpen, given how dominate Merryweather looked early while touching 100 mph. Since he’s a one or two-inning reliever, though, his return should move quickly once he’s back into a throwing program.
• Ross Stripling (right forearm flexor strain) threw on Thursday, and he could be back in the picture for the Blue Jays within the coming days, Atkins said, which indicates the righty avoided a more serious injury. Stripling opened the season in the rotation, which is still an option, but his versatility and ability to pitch long relief is valuable.