NEW YORK -- The emergence of Teoscar Hernandez has prompted the Blue Jays to make a flurry of roster moves to ensure he will receive a lot of playing time in the outfield.
Toronto activated Kendrys Morales from the disabled list prior to Friday's 8-5 win over the Yankees, but instead of sending Hernandez back to the Minors -- as was initially expected last week -- the Blue Jays optioned infielder Mpho' Ngoepe and lefty reliever Tim Mayza to Triple-A Buffalo. The moves also made room to promote Cuban prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from Double-A New Hampshire.
Gurriel made an instant impact, as he notched two singles and three RBIs in his big league debut. Hernandez stayed hot, too, as he roped a two-run homer in the third inning.
The Blue Jays' decision to keep Hernandez on the big league squad means the club has five outfielders on the 25-man roster. Randal Grichuk, who has just five hits in 57 at-bats this season and is out of options, is expected to be mostly relegated to the bench, at least until Hernandez's bat cools off.
"I think we'd be crazy not to have him in there," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Hernandez, who entered play on Friday with five extra-base hits in five games. "He has given us good at-bats, good production. ... He's really locked in, but he has a ton of talent too."
The configuration of the roster is not sustainable over the long haul, but it buys the Blue Jays time until Josh Donaldson returns from the DL, which won't happen until next week at the earliest.
If Hernandez continues to hit at this rate, then it will be impossible to send him back to the Minors. If his production slows down, or someone gets hurt before Donaldson returns, Grichuk could re-enter the fold. Grichuk needs to remain on the active roster or be placed on waivers. Curtis Granderson, Kevin Pillar and Steve Pearce are the other outfielders on the roster.
"We do have a little logjam," Gibbons admitted. "We'll make sure they all play. It's not ideal, but we'll make sure they all get something in there. I think that's important, because they're swinging it."
Gurriel was in the lineup on Friday night, and alongside shortstop Aledmys Diaz, he helped form an all-Cuban middle infield for the Blue Jays. Gurriel is expected to see most of his playing time at second base whenever Devon Travis needs a day off. Gurriel also becomes the primary backup at shortstop behind Diaz and could occasionally play third base. Travis' availability for Friday night's game was uncertain after he fouled a ball off his left foot in Thursday night's loss to New York.
The promotion of Gurriel gives the Blue Jays a superior option off the bench after Ngoepe struggled during a brief stint in Toronto. Ngoepe had just one hit and struck out 12 times in 18 at-bats. Gurriel hit .347 (17-for-49) with five extra-base hits in 12 games for Double-A New Hampshire prior to joining the Blue Jays.
Gurriel could be sent down to the Minors when Donaldson returns. But that move would leave the Blue Jays with just one backup infielder, and Donaldson and Travis likely will require at least semi-regular rest from defensive duties to protect against injuries. It's another short-term fix the Blue Jays could explore when the time comes on a roster that suddenly has quite a bit of versatility.
"It was incredible. I was really happy about the call," Gurriel said through a translator. "I'm just grateful and happy for the team to make that call and thank God that I'm here today. ... It's a dream come true, coming to Yankee Stadium. Walking into the [clubhouse], looking at the guys, looking at you guys here, it's just a dream come true."