One of the key questions now facing the Toronto Blue Jays is one they also faced for much of 2016: Who will hit leadoff?
The answer is simple—at least when Devon Travis is healthy. Travis’s status remains up in the air, but Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said the second baseman “will be the guy” atop the order when he’s ready to go.
Travis played a minor-league game Monday, going 0-for-2 in four innings. He told reporters in Florida he felt good at second base. If all goes well, the club expects the 26-year-old could be in the Blue Jays’ lineup by the end of the week with opening day still a possibility.
“We’ll kind of gauge it. We want to make sure he’s got enough at-bats too,” Gibbons told Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt on Sportsnet 590 The Fan earlier in the day. “You don’t want to throw him in there if he’s not ready then he may struggle from that end but there’s a lot more optimism (than there was a couple weeks ago) I will tell you that. We need him. He’s a key part to this team but we need him hopefully for six months and hopefully more than that.”
Travis underwent surgery in November to repair cartilage damage after injuring his right knee during Game 1 of the 2016 ALCS. Though the operation went according to plan, he’s also battling a bone bruise.
If Travis isn’t ready at the start of the season, or if new injury troubles arise during the season, then the leadoff situation becomes cloudy.
“I know Kevin Pillar would love to do it but for that role you definitely have to have more disciplined [at the plate],” Gibbons said. “That’s just a fact. It’s nothing personal against anybody. Who knows? As the season goes along maybe (Pillar) proves that (he’s capable of hitting leadoff). But other than Devon it’s a tough thing to answer.”
Travis hit .300/.332/.454 in 432 plate appearances last year, his second season at the MLB level. Pillar, a gold glove finalist two years running, is less consistent at the plate, as evidenced by his 2016 batting line of .266/.303/.376.
Gibbons tried Jose Bautista atop the order for a while in 2016 and the results were good, but the Blue Jays are best served keeping the veteran outfielder in more of a run-producing role.
“I don’t like him there to be honest with you although he was productive,” Gibbons said of Bautista. “I like him in the three/four hole.”
Gibbons is hoping Travis can get up to full speed in the remaining weeks of spring training so he won’t be forced to make a tough decision.
“Hopefully he’s not too far away,” Gibbons added. “Really, he’d be the ideal guy in my mind.”