Kirk ready to contribute in big league return

July 23rd, 2021

When catcher Danny Jansen began hobbling while rounding first base and then pulled up running out a double in Wednesday’s 7-4 loss to the Red Sox, it was clear that he had aggravated the same right hamstring that forced him to miss nearly all of June.

On Friday, the Blue Jays made the call to place Jansen back on the 10-day injured list. According to manager Charlie Montoyo, given the severity of Jansen’s strain, that’s where he’ll be for the foreseeable future.

“He’ll be out for a while,” Montoyo said. “Not gonna speculate how long, but yeah, he pulled it pretty good.”

Taking Jansen’s place behind the plate will be Alejandro Kirk, who was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo in a corresponding move. He slotted into the starting lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Mets at Citi Field.

Kirk has not suited up for the Blue Jays since May 1, having spent the time since on the IL with a left hip flexor strain. On Friday, he said that he felt a pull in his left leg after swinging through a foul ball in that contest against the Braves.

“I didn’t pay much attention [at first]. The pain wasn’t much, so I kept playing,” Kirk said through an interpreter. “But the more I was playing during the game, the pain wasn’t improving -- to the point where I had to tell Charlie to take me out of the game.”

It was unfortunate timing for the 22-year-old Kirk, who was beginning to find his groove at the plate, as evidenced by his two-homer, four-RBI game in the opener of that series against Atlanta.

Kirk went on a rehab assignment with the Triple-A club in early July, and he was optioned there on Tuesday to continue his development, particularly behind the dish. He said that he made a concerted effort to improve at catching, receiving, blocking and calling the game.

“It takes a lot,” Kirk said of his long rehab. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs. It’s been difficult the entire process. But thank God, I’m here right now and I’m feeling very good and I’m ready to help the team.”

And while Kirk was less attentive to the offensive side of his game, he still saw results. In 14 games with the Bisons, he slashed .347/.393/.531 with a .924 OPS through 49 at-bats.

As Kirk patiently awaited his chance to return to the big leagues, the message he received from the Blue Jays was simple:

“Keep working hard, keep getting better, get healthy and just wait for the call,” he said.

Now that the call has come, Kirk is ready to step into the fold and pick up where he left off.

Given how Jansen and fellow backstop Reese McGuire split catching duties, Montoyo plans to continue a platoon approach with Kirk’s arrival. But there are certain cases that could sway his decision, he admitted. For example, McGuire will likely catch Hyun Jin Ryu in Saturday’s game because “he’s a little bit more complicated.” But after that, Montoyo said either of his two catchers could be options at any point.

And in Kirk’s mind, that’s the only consideration for whether he’ll be able to play going forward. The injury is no longer a concern.

“No restrictions. I feel 100 percent right now, and I’m ready to go until Charlie tells me [otherwise],” he said. “I’m ready to catch an entire game. Whenever they need me, I’m good.”