TORONTO — Jose Bautista still feels some soreness in his back, but the tightness that kept him out of the lineup for four games against the Chicago White Sox has lessened to the point that he’s ready to play.
The Toronto Blue Jays outfielder said before the game that the back spasms he experienced earlier in the week were primarily an inconvenience.
“It’s more frustrating than scary,” he said. “I knew that I wasn’t going to be hurt for a long time.”
Bautista will be the Blue Jays’ designated hitter Friday when they welcome Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees to Toronto. Manager John Gibbons said he expects Bautista will continue to DH for the entire three-game series in order to protect his back from the artificial playing surface at Rogers Centre.
"If we thought there was any risk he might aggravate it more, he wouldn't be in there," Gibbons said. "He felt much better."
Bautista took batting practice Friday, drilling home runs into the left field seats at Rogers Centre. He said that he's feeling better than he did earlier in the week -- pretty close to 100 per cent.
"The pain hasn't subsided completely, but the tightness has," he explained.
The 32-year-old has appeared in just nine games this season due to the recent back spasms and an ankle injury sustained during the Blue Jays' first homestand.
With Bautista sidelined, the Blue Jays split their four-game series with Chicago. Bautista said sitting on the bench was less frustrating than it could have been.
"We're playing good baseball and we've gotten a couple of wins, so it wasn't that difficult," he said. "I knew I couldn't play anyways, so there's not much I could do."
Gibbons said R.A. Dickey was feeling a bit better Friday after leaving Thursday's start with neck and back tightness. The manager noted that the act of throwing a baseball repeatedly has the potential to create discomfort at times.
"There's a lot of throwing going on. It doesn't take much to throw you out of whack," Gibbons explained. "But shoot he looked so good (Thursday) night, maybe he ought to keep it."
The team will have a better sense of Dickey's health after he throws a side session Saturday. The knuckleballer experienced some soreness while facing the Royals in Kansas City, then left Thursday's game after six innings with spasms between his neck and his shoulder blade.
Back in Toronto for the first time since his trade to New York, former Blue Jays outfielder Vernon Wells was a jarring sight in Yankees pinstripes.
"This is different, that's for sure," said Wells, who was anticipating a steady stream of boos. "I don't really think it matters what uniform you're wearing, when you go out to left field, it's a barrage from pitch one to the last out. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of people's mouths."
Wells, dealt by the Blue Jays to the Los Angeles Angels in January 2011, was greeted warmly in his first game back Aug. 12, but a homer against Brandon Morrow in his first at-bat changed the tenor.
"That turned it pretty sour in a heartbeat," he said. "They got that out of their system and it was game on from that point."
Wells was traded from the Angels to the Yankees last month.
Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie said he feels great after returning from a rib cage injury to the active roster. The 23-year-old said he's relieved to be back with the team in Toronto, and glad he didn't rush his return.
"I feel like if I had come back a little bit earlier than I was supposed to we would have had problems, but fortunately enough I took the time that I needed and got back where I need to be," he said.
Gibbons said he expects Lawrie to start contributing on offence soon. The Blue Jays brought him back from the minor leagues after just two games with the organization's Florida State League affiliate.
"That's not enough, but we needed him," Gibbons said. "He's healthy and he's played great defence. The hitting's going to come."
LINEUP TAKING SHAPE
Now that Bautista and Lawrie have returned, the lineup continues to take shape. With Lawrie playing third base, Maicer Izturis returns to second base -- his natural position in Gibbons' view.
While the Blue Jays could ask Izturis to play elsewhere at various points during the season, he projects as the regular second baseman for now.
Once Bautista returns to his regular position in right field, Adam Lind and Rajai Davis will take over at DH, with Lind facing right-handers and Davis facing left-handers. Lind and Davis had been set to form a platoon earlier in the month, before injuries led to new alignments.
Emilio Bonifacio has been getting regular playing time so far, but would shift to a super-utility role if the club's starters are all healthy. Shortstop is settled for the time being with the strong play of Munenori Kawasaki, a development which helped the Blue Jays avoid a hostile trade market.
"Everyone knows when [Jose] Reyes goes down they've got you," Gibbons said. "Every team in baseball's got you where they want you. You really want one of our guys that bad, you're probably going to have to overpay. And that's why Kawasaki has been big."