Saunders to rebuild stamina before rejoining Jays

Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders, left, chats with head trainer George Poulis. (Neil Davidson/CP)

BALTIMORE – Michael Saunders will spend the next few days rebuilding the stamina in his legs to handle the wear and tear of the baseball schedule before the Toronto Blue Jays activate him from the disabled list.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos said Sunday “he would hope” the left-fielder is ready at some point during the club’s upcoming 10-game homestand, but cautioned that “we’re not going to force a timeline on it.”

“It’s to make sure his knee is strong and that he can go play nine innings in the field five days in a row,” Anthopoulos added during a wide-ranging chat with media. “I’m not saying he’s going to do that on rehab, but we need to have the confidence that he can do that and there are no issues.”

Saunders played five innings in left field Saturday for the first time in three games on his rehab assignment at single-A Dunedin, and was back at DH on Sunday, leaving after one at-bat as a precaution due to tightness in his right hamstring.

It’s possible he may be moved to triple-A Buffalo next week as a precursor to rejoining the Blue Jays, but the incident underlined the need for a gradual build.

"The key was that he felt good (Sunday) after playing five innings in the field," Anthopoulos said before the incident with the hamstring. "It’s spring training for him right now. We have to build him up to get to nine innings, back to back days and feeling strong. The fact that he’s back in the field is a great step, but it’s not yet every day in the field. It is really day by day right now to see how he feels and how he recovers."

Here are some highlights from the discussion with Anthopoulos:

  • On minor-league free agent Felix Doubront: “He’s doing well, starting to build up. The reports are that he’s doing well, so he should be getting back. We’ll get him stretched out to be able to start, but he’s on track and I would hope by the end of the month [he can join triple-A Buffalo].”
  • Fellow minor-league free agent Johan Santana continues on his throwing program and is making progress “a little bit slower than we expected.” There’s no timeline for getting him back up on a mound. “We’ll re-evaluate him at the end of the month, as well.”
  • On building up set-up man options in bullpen to better distribute the workload: “I was very encouraged by what we saw with Colt [Hynes]. I thought it was a great move by Gibby to bring him in and keep the game at three [runs on Saturday]. Obviously, [Alejandro] De Aza and [Chris] Davis both had had good at-bats against Aaron [Sanchez]. It just made complete sense. You get a guy like Colt who can do two things for you – he can strike guys out but also get a ground ball. It allowed Gibby to play the infield in and try to keep the game to three runs and to come in and get the two left-handers. The one thing that’s encouraging about him is that he throws strikes, not huge stuff, he’s very deceptive, he throws strikes, he gets ground balls, he’s not afraid, he really competes. If Colt can come on, and we have to continue to watch him, and then you look at [Roberto] Osuna, [Miguel] Castro, [Aaron] Loup, [Brett] Cecil. Even I was encouraged by what I saw in Liam [Hendriks]. Again, it’s so early. But all of a sudden you may have some guys that will start to round into form.”
  • On Miguel Castro: “We were high on him in the winter, and I still think he has a chance to be an outstanding starter. I saw it last year, flashes of a plus slider, spring training we also saw it, as well. There are times he doesn’t hit on it but he throws strikes and he has great stuff and it gives you a very good chance of having success. Very poised, both him and Osuna very poised. But again, all these guys, they’re going to have bumps, they’re going to get hit, it’s going to happen, it happens to everybody. How they recover is important. I thought even in spring training, the one outing when they both got hit they came back and they looked great the next outing.”
  • On potential trade talks for Dioner Navarro: “If we have any trade discussions on anybody, that’s not something we’re going to advertise. But like I said, if there’s an opportunity to get him an everyday job we’ll look to do that, same thing we said in spring training. If that doesn’t present itself, we’re thrilled to have him. He’s a great player that makes us a lot stronger and we’re deep having him on the team.”
  • On Russell Martin’s work with R.A. Dickey in New York: “I thought it was good. I don’t think he went to the backstop once. Look, there’s going to be days like that. Josh [Thole] was outstanding, is outstanding, at it and there were days too where Josh, there are going to be passed balls no matter who you are. I thought Russ did a great job, not great conditions, cold, rain, all that type of stuff. I thought he did a great job.”
  • On whether Aaron Sanchez’s lack of fastball command was related to his arm slot: “I wasn’t concerned about the arm slot. I wasn’t looking at mechanics. I was just behind the plate to watch. I haven’t watched video or studied it all. He just couldn’t command the fastball.”
  • On carrying 13 pitchers: “Right now it’s fine. The eight-man pen hasn’t affected us in a negative way. It’s actually worked out for us. There hasn’t been a scenario when we’ve been short a position player. A big part of it was we had guys that are out of options [Liam Hendriks, Todd Redmond]. It was close and guys were having good springs. You want to just buy yourself a little more time in case things change, guys can get hurt. The longer we can keep evaluating these guys and settling roles, the better off we’re going to be.”
  • On Maicer Izturis’s progress from a groin injury: “He’s continuing his rehab. Not 100 percent yet and not playing in games. Timeframe is we’ll get him into games by the end of the month.”