ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The temptation, had they not so effectively reversed out of their early-season slide, would have been to view Jose Reyes as some type of saviour, returning to resurrect a season of promise turned to woe.
Instead, the all-star shortstop rejoins a Toronto Blue Jays team that’s made plenty of progress down the path to redemption, and all he needs to do is help shepherd the journey along rather than to spark or lead the way.
In many ways, it’s a far more ideal environment for him to rejoin them.
“He doesn’t have to come in thinking he’s got to save the world and save the team or the organization,” says closer Casey Janssen. “I’m sure there’s going to be a little part of him that wants to make up for lost time and show not only everyone in this clubhouse, but the fans and everyone else who Jose Reyes is because a lot of us haven’t gotten to see him play on a regular basis.
“At the same time, he’s part of the puzzle, everyone is part of the puzzle and our team isn’t built on one guy. We need everyone to make this engine go.”
The Blue Jays have certainly received contributions from all corners during their recent run and with Reyes set to be activated from the disabled list Wednesday, they’re adding a dynamic presence and element to help keep things going.
Reyes was among the few Blue Jays to hit the ground running when the season opened, batting .395 with one homer, five RBIs and five stolen bases before spraining his left ankle on an awkward slide into second base Apr. 12 at Kansas City.
While he was largely driving the offence back then, Reyes won’t need to do the same heavy lifting now with so many batters hot behind him.
“He’s still going to lift us up, he’s going to be so eager to get back on the field that it wouldn’t really matter,” says Jose Bautista. “He’s our leadoff hitter and we still haven’t found someone to replace him. He’s going to open up a lot of opportunities.”
Aside from the prototypical leadoff man game Reyes brings to the batting order, he also makes the lineup longer by providing much more of a threat than Munenori Kawasaki, who will learn his fate after Tuesday’s night’s game against the Rays when the Jays make a corresponding roster move.
While Kawasaki did an admirable and far-better-than-expected job in stop-gapping things at shortstop, the upgrade for the Blue Jays is like switching from a bicycle to a Ferrari.
“I tip my hat to the guys that have filled in, Kawasaki in particular has done a great job, he really has. Coming out of nowhere, he’s done a lot of good things for us,” says manager John Gibbons. “Reyes is a difference-maker, no question.”
As much as fans have eagerly anticipated Reyes’ return, so too have Blue Jays players.
Kawasaki’s energy and colourful ways made him a clubhouse favourite, but they understand how Reyes can push the team to the next level.
“He makes us exponentially better,” veteran Mark DeRosa says of Reyes. “It will be a nice transition for him to come back into a lineup that’s playing well, that’s meshing, a team that’s playing good baseball. It won’t be a situation where he feels the need to come out like gangbusters to get us going.”
Adds Janssen: “He’s an all-star calibre player, he’s a top of the order type of hitter who can make our lineup go. All of a sudden you start slotting guys a bit lower and it rounds out our lineup, it gives us a dynamic of speed up there and maybe puts guys more in their natural spot.
”He was electric and hitting well before this happened and I’m sure he’s not going to keep going at that rate, but if he does that and the guys keep doing what they’re doing, we like where we’ll be.”
The Blue Jays were certainly singing a different song on May 10, when they dropped a season-high 11 games under .500 at 13-24 after being one-hit by Jon Lester in a 5-0 loss at Boston.
Little was going right, Reyes’ return was nowhere in sight and concern was building over the scorched earth he might find once back.
“The talk has been since he went down amongst (media) is that if you can get back to .500 by the time he gets back, that’s pretty good,” says Gibbons. “He just adds to it. He’s one of the premier players in the game, just all the different things he can do. I know everyone is going to be glad to get him back, regardless.
“One guy can’t do it all. One guy can make a big difference, but one guy alone can’t do it. But he can make a nice difference.”
Thanks to the past few weeks, that’s all the Blue Jays need.