TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays plan to use Brett Lawrie at second base against right-handed pitchers when he returns from hamstring tightness in order to keep hard-hitting Juan Francisco in the lineup at third base.
Manager John Gibbons confirmed the plan Saturday as Lawrie went through the paces with Monday now his targeted return date. With C.J. Wilson scheduled to start for the Los Angeles Angels that night, he’ll be back at third base, but the Cleveland Indians who follow will start three right-handers.
“It’s going to be a tough lineup for a pitcher to navigate that’s for sure, and that will make us stronger,” said Gibbons. “We’ve been watching ever since (Francisco) got here and he’s a pretty good player, he’s off to a great start.
“I don’t think we’d be doing our job if we decided to sit him and not take advantage of what he’s doing.”
Francisco headed in Saturday’s action with five home runs and a .966 OPS in 18 games. Chris Getz and Steve Tolleson have been sharing duties at second since Ryan Goins and Jonathan Diaz were optioned.
The Blue Jays first shifted Lawrie over to second last weekend in Pittsburgh, a move the third baseman met reluctantly. He pointed out then that “I’m a third baseman, I’m not a third base/second base type of guy.”
Still, he added then that he wanted do his part to help the Blue Jays win and repeated that Saturday, saying he was “just doing it for the team.”
Lawrie played two games at second and didn’t look out of place, although he wasn’t tested with any tough double plays. Asked if that experience increased his comfort level, he replied, “Not necessarily.”
“I’ve only done it for a couple of games, you need a few games under your belt in order to make it comfortable,” he added.
The Blue Jays used Lawrie at second base in six games last season before shelving plans to convert him. He was drafted as a catcher by the Milwaukee Brewers, who promptly converted him to a second baseman, but hasn’t played there regularly since 2010.
Since the Blue Jays moved him over to third in 2011, Lawrie has become one of the top defenders in the game. The decision demonstrates how much the emphasis on defence the club started the season with has shifted to producing offence.
“He’s got no problem with it,” Gibbons said of Lawrie’s reaction. “He basically said, whatever the boys need. He’s here to win, that’s the name of the game, and like I said, I think it makes us better.”