Notes: Espinal back; Rogers seating expands

September 25th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Blue Jays have their third baseman back just in time for the playoff push.

was activated ahead of Friday night's 3-1 loss to the Twins, going 1-for-3 with a double. He immediately slotted into the starting lineup, and is expected to see the majority of the starting reps at third. A combination of Breyvic Valera, Kevin Smith and Jake Lamb have filled in, but Espinal was putting together a strong season prior to going down with a right hip flexor strain.

The initial diagnosis was serious, which left Espinal fearing he’d miss the remainder of the season. With his timeline still uncertain through the first week of his IL stint, he was stuck watching the Blue Jays from afar as they caught fire in early September.

“When you watch your team having fun, and you’re just there laying in bed watching your team having fun, it’s pretty tough,” Espinal said. “I’m just so happy to be here and I’m so happy to be back.”

The timing of this couldn’t be better, though. The 26-year-old was hitting .290 with a .732 OPS over 83 games, playing some excellent defense along the way prior to his injury. Over the past two seasons, Espinal has gone from a depth player to an MLB reserve and now a regular, all of which has been earned. His long-term role is likely more as a utility player, but over the next nine games and, potentially, beyond, he’s the man.

There’s no time to ease in, though. In a tight AL Wild Card race, the Blue Jays need to win, and win now.

“It’s pretty tough, but I know I can do it,” Espinal said. “I know that the only reason I’m here is because I’m trying to help the team win. Any opportunity that I’m getting, it’s just to help the team win. That’s what I’m here for.”

Blue Jays expand capacity to 30,000
The Blue Jays announced on Friday that they’ve received provincial approval to expand capacity at Rogers Centre from 15,000 to 30,000 for their regular season-ending homestand against the Yankees and Orioles beginning Tuesday. On Thursday, the Blue Jays began selling additional tickets for those games in preparation of this potential news.

The club will continue to require that all fans 12 and older provide proof of vaccination to attend games. Up until this point, the Blue Jays have used just the 100 and 200 levels of Rogers Centre, but this expansion will open up the 500 level.

The latest on Lourdes
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. suffered a scary injury on Thursday night in Minneapolis when he and Randal Grichuk got tied up in the outfield, with Grichuk’s cleat coming down on Gurriel’s right hand.

“Good news and bad news,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “The good news is that nothing’s broken, which is amazing. The bad news is that he has stitches on the middle finger, so for sure he won’t be able to play today. He’ll be day to day.”

Given where the stitches are, Gurriel can grip a bat, but throwing a baseball could be a little more challenging, at least in the coming days. That leaves open the possibility that Gurriel could DH before returning to the field, a possibility that’s more attractive now that George Springer has returned to center field for the first time since his knee sprain.

Ryu a possibility for Yankees series
Hyun Jin Ryu (neck tightness) continues to throw in the outfield prior to games in Minneapolis and is progressing well from his neck tightness. No pitcher is at 100 percent at this point in the season, but it was evident that Ryu was battling more than just fatigue in recent outings as he struggled with his typically pinpoint control.

At this point, he’s in line to be an option at some point during the Blue Jays’ series against the Yankees, which begins on Tuesday at Rogers Centre. That’s a powerful lineup and Ryu has not been his dominant self lately, though, so the Blue Jays would need him to bounce right back if he gets the nod.