After weeks of bad news on the injury front, the Blue Jays finally have some reasons for optimism.
Closer Ken Giles took a major step in his recovery from a right forearm strain Tuesday, throwing his first bullpen session at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y. Giles has been on the injured list since the opening series against the Rays with an injury that looked like it could have been more serious, so this progression comes as a relief to the club.
The next steps for Giles will include another bullpen session before progressing to facing live hitters. Without a Minor League season, there won’t be a traditional rehab assignment, but the Blue Jays are confident they can get Giles built back up by using live BP sessions against their own hitters.
Toronto’s bullpen has weathered his absence well, with Anthony Bass and Jordan Romano combining for five saves as a flexible back-end duo. Assuming Giles is able to work his way back to the ninth inning at some point in September, that would allow manager Charlie Montoyo to use his other high-leverage arms more freely, which could be especially valuable if either Anthony Kay or Thomas Hatch make the full-time move to the starting rotation.
Shortstop Bo Bichette is also closing in on some important steps in his recovery from a sprained right knee. The young star is expected to resume baseball activities this coming weekend, Montoyo said.
Bichette will be brought along with caution, so baseball activities likely won’t involve him running through max-effort drills immediately, but he’ll be eager to force his way back into a lineup that’s enjoyed a power surge in his absence. Prior to going down, Bichette was hitting .361 with a 1.063 OPS to go with a steady glove at short.
The Blue Jays are still expected to be active in their pursuit of starting pitching at Monday's Trade Deadline, but the value of getting players of this caliber back in the lineup can’t be overstated.
Other injury updates
No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson (right flexor strain) is hoping to play catch this weekend, and his timeline for a return should become clearer as he begins to take those initial steps. The Blue Jays would love to get Pearson back in a starting role, especially with the other injuries in their rotation, but another possibility could be a shortened and flexible multi-inning role if he’s not built back up.
Guerrero keeps third base as option
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has made the full-time move to first base with a heavy dose of designated hitter days mixed in, but he’s still taking ground balls at third base to stay fresh.
“Whatever the team needs, I’ll be ready," Guerrero said. "If Charlie needs me at third base, I’m going to be at third base. Actually, the days that I DH, I go early with [third-base coach] Luis Rivera and I take ground balls at third base just in case the situation comes.”
This is more likely to come in handy if there’s an injury or late in a game if the Blue Jays are pinch-hitting and need to shake up their subsequent infield defense. Starting Guerrero at third with Rowdy Tellez at first base could make some sense if there was an impact bat Toronto needed to get into its lineup, but unless Daniel Vogelbach recaptures his 2019 form against right-handed pitching, that doesn’t seem likely.