TORONTO -- Help is on the way for the Blue Jays and their struggling lineup as star outfielder George Springer has been activated from the 10-day IL. His timing couldn’t be better.
Springer has been out since Aug. 14 with a left knee sprain after slamming into the wall in Seattle and falling awkwardly, and given how the injury looked at the time, it’s surprising to see him back so soon. The 31-year-old also missed time earlier in the season with quad strains, and while he’ll return at DH for the time being, Toronto is confident he’s ready for the stretch run.
With Springer using a brace at times through his rehab process, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said it’s likely he goes without that in games. The club will continue to evaluate his return to playing the outfield, but for now, getting Springer's bat back atop the lineup is priority No. 1.
“I think there is a lot to be said for having different approaches in your lineup and having a little more balance to it,” Atkins said Monday. “It’s not just necessarily left-handed and right-handed balance, but how many pitches they’re seeing, which types of pitch types can be used to attack certain hitters, and George is a proven professional at-bat with plate discipline and an elite ability to swing at pitches he can drive. That will be a big add to the lineup.”
Despite having four All-Stars atop their lineup -- and that’s before you add Springer back into the mix -- the Blue Jays have struggled to find timely hits of late. Hitting with runners in scoring position was a strength earlier in the season, but it has quickly become a weakness, and hitting in the late innings of games remains this lineup’s most confusing problem. Even as they took two of three from the Tigers in Detroit this past weekend, the Blue Jays scored just six total runs.
When Springer has been healthy, he’s been playing at an elite level. In late July and early August, Springer won back-to-back AL Player of the Week Awards and owns a .972 OPS with 16 home runs over just 49 games. This is just a snapshot of Springer, not the full picture the Blue Jays hoped they’d see in the first year of his six-year, $150 million deal, but if any bat can wake up this lineup, it’s his.
Until Springer is able to play center, Randal Grichuk could see some more reps there, which was the solution earlier this season. The speedy Jarrod Dyson, recently claimed off waivers from the Royals, gets the start there on Monday and has an opportunity to stick as a depth outfielder, especially with rosters soon expanding.
Pearson pushing for MLB return
No. 2 prospect Nate Pearson is still working his way back in a bullpen role, and at this point it’s a matter of refining his pitches. The hard-throwing right-hander has dealt with injuries all season -- mostly a series of recurring groin strains as he deals with a sports hernia -- but the Blue Jays envision him in a one- to two-inning bullpen role down the stretch.
“The power is certainly there,” Atkins said. “The depth to his slider has been impressive. His curveball has been effective. It’s really just been about command.”
Merryweather still the late-season wild card
Julian Merryweather has been out with an oblique injury for nearly the entire season, but is scheduled to make another rehab outing on Tuesday. It’s difficult to bet on his impact down the stretch, given his injury history, but Merryweather’s potential ceiling is still very high.
“Coming off one outing, we were extremely encouraged by where his power was with his velocity,” Atkins said. “For him, the crispness of his secondary weapons will be what we’re looking for.
Danny Jansen (right hamstring strain) is working his way back in Triple-A, but there remains a crowded catching picture with Reese McGuire and Alejandro Kirk in the Majors. McGuire has earned his spot and Kirk represents the highest offensive upside of the group, so it’s sounding likely that Jansen returns as part of September’s roster expansion.
“I think he’s ready,” Atkins said. “If it were later in the season, we might push him to get more at-bats, but where we are in the season with how he would be deployed, I think we’re comfortable with him becoming an option soon.”
No. 1 prospect Gabriel Moreno, who’s coming back from a thumb fracture, is getting closer, Atkins says, and will likely return to Double-A when he’s ready. Moreno was one of the breakout stars of the Minor League season before his injury, hitting .373 with eight home runs and a 1.092 OPS over 32 games.
“He’s progressing well and could be playing baseball here soon,” Atkins said. “He’s doing all the baseball activities, it’s just a matter now of having his body ready to play five, seven and nine innings.”