The true measure of a team comes not when times are good, and all is going to plan, but when adversity strikes, and significant challenges must be overcome.
That’s where the Toronto Blue Jays find themselves after the gruesome-looking ankle injury suffered by Jose Reyes on Friday, their leadoff hitter and shortstop lost at least one month but up to three months, depending on how much damage an MRI finds, an absence that can compound an already slow start.
Their mettle and adaptability is sure going to be tested in the weeks to come.
Of all the places to have suffered an injury of significance, shortstop is probably the spot where the Blue Jays are least insulated, and they very well may need to get help from outside the organization to cover Reyes’ absence.
Unsurprisingly, GM Alex Anthopoulos had his cell phone glued to his ear after the injury.
Internally, there’s Maicer Izturis, day-to-day after fouling a ball off his foot Thursday in Detroit, who can certainly slide into the role but is more of a backup type due to share duties at second base with Emilio Bonifacio, the super utilityman with 96 big-league games at shortstop under his belt, 67 of them in 2011 with the Marlins.
Prospect Ryan Goins is the only other possibility on the 40-man roster, and he’s at triple-A Buffalo, along with veteran stopgap Mike McCoy and light-hitting, mid-spring addition Munenori Kawasaki.
None are ideal options for a team with designs on the post-season, especially after fighting through some defensive issues around the infield through the first nine games before Reyes’ tearful exit.
The imminent return of third baseman Brett Lawrie may ease the imminent pressure, especially if the Blue Jays opt to shorten his rehab assignment, due to start Saturday, from the four or five games they had in mind.
Don’t be surprised if he rejoins the Blue Jays on Monday in Toronto for the start of a four-game series with the Chicago White Sox if things go well this weekend.
Lawrie’s return would let manager John Gibbons split work at second and short between Bonifacio, Izturis and Mark DeRosa, and buy Anthopoulos some time to make a sensible deal.
Regardless, the Blue Jays will need to get some help to Kansas City for Saturday night’s contest, although they could paper over another day or two by using Jose Bautista at third base again, something they may have to do if Izturis is still tender.
Even more complicated will be finding a new leadoff hitter, and replacing the prototypical skill set Reyes brought to the table.
Bonifacio may be the most logical option right now, since he offers a similar disruptive presence on the base paths, but save for a brilliant 2011 – when he batted .296/.360/.393 – he doesn’t get on base often enough to be ideal for the role.
Lawrie hit in the leadoff spot 61 times last year, and while Gibbons wants to lengthen the lineup with him in the middle, the third baseman may be the only other real possibility.
Put all together, it’s understandable why Gibbons described Reyes’ loss as “a nightmare.”
The dynamic shortstop was the club’s only new addition to hit the ground running, batting .395 with one homer, five RBIs and five stolen bases, the final one leading to the fateful slide that turned his ankle.
To survive his absence, the club’s pitching must stabilize, the middle of the order needs to do some serious damage and the Blue Jays must find someone to consistently catch the ball up the middle and take away the occasional hit. Nothing there is too tall an order, but the task before them is a few ticks harder now than it was Friday morning.
What it means is we’re about to find out what these Blue Jays are really made of.