After Kevin Pillar made his return to the Blue Jays lineup on Tuesday evening in the opening game of a three-game trifecta against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the spotlight shifted directly to slugger Jose Bautista.
To this, Blue Jays nation received more good news as they learned that Bautista is expected to make his return on Thursday with the expectation that he will spend more time at the designated hitter's position throughout the rest of the season to guard against his knee.
Now let's break this down here.
First, Jose Bautista is returning to the Blue Jays after falling on the disabled list for the second time this season on August 10th because of a freak knee injury. He first fell victim to the injury bug on June 17th when he was placed on the 15-day DL with a case of turf toe that held him out of the lineup until July 25th. From July 25th until his next injury 15 days later, Bautista hit a combined slash line of .241/.414/.465, which can be seen as a positive sign considering his seasonal slash line of .222/.349/.444. Whether the improvement of Bautista from his down year will become permanent or not remains to be seen.
The other consideration worth examining is that of who will be sent down once Bautista does return. The best guess is that it will be either Ryan Goins or Aaron Loup depending on the injury status of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and second baseman Devon Travis. Tulo missed some time last week with a minor injury with Travis missing the series opener with a knuckle injury. Another option could be Ezequiel Carrera; however, given the last idea worth unpacking, this possibility seems more like a reach than anything.
That is the fact that John Gibbons expects Bautista to spend more time at DH throughout the rest of the season to ensure he's able to remain on the field and not suffer another turf related "freak" injury. While this may be the primary reason for putting Bautista in an offensive-only role, it's certainly not the only reason. As has been discussed ad nauseum at this point, Jose Bautista is not the defensive outfielder he once was. In fact, he's having one of the worst defensive seasons in Blue Jays history.
The other side of this is that the Blue Jays simply don't need Bautista running cross-routes in the outfield anymore. After acquiring Melvin Upton, the Jays now have three capable outfielders with the defensive upgrade of Carrera that could be implemented by Gibbons later in games over Michael Saunders. There's simply no need other than pride or saving face for his impending free agency to support the need to trot Bautista out to the field.
Of course, this would mean that part-time first baseman Justin Smoak is going to spend a larger portion of his time on the bench. At perfectly replacement level per fWAR, that's a proposition that shouldn't shock anyone including Smoak who can still be used as a defensive replacement over Edwin Encarnacion in the later innings with a lead as he was in the playoffs last year.
All of this is good news for a team that has gone 12-8 in the month of August. Certainly that's not a record to be ashamed of but in the heat of a pennant race, one can't complain of a bat-flipper returning to the lineup.