NEW YORK – The Toronto Blue Jays have made roster moves on 12 of May’s first 15 days, which helps explain the work-in-progress feeling the club’s had over the past couple of weeks.
Recalling Dwight Smith Jr. on Tuesday as the corresponding move to Sunday’s demotion of fellow outfielder Anthony Alford was the latest transaction in the ongoing juggling, which notably set up Richard Urena to be the regular shortstop until Aledmys Diaz returns from injury.
The demotion of prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to triple-A Buffalo opened up the playing time at the crucial defensive position, where the Blue Jays have for the most part emphasized offence over defence.
Urena is a strong defender, and will be supported by Giovanny Urshela in a backup middle infield role.
“Richie is a switch-hitter of course and he’s a true shortstop and I’m a big fan of the kid, so he’ll play,” said manager John Gibbons. “Urshela, he’ll play, too. I think it’s important that everyone who’s here plays something. How we’ll deal with that is a day-to-day thing, probably.”
Gurriel, 24, batted .206/.229/.309 in 20 games before he was sent out and was just 3-for-25 with nine strikeouts in his last eight outings. He also made three errors, two at second and one at short, while also having trouble cleanly fielding a handful of balls, convincing the Blue Jays he needed a chance to “regroup a little bit.”
“He got into a little bit of trouble the last week, he was too aggressive, chasing balls out of the zone, he was getting himself out a lot. But it’s not unusual,” said Gibbons. “Your top guys come up, they play a brief period and they end up going back down – that’s just the way it usually works for most guys. But he’s got everything he needs, no doubt about it. His day will come full-time.”
The Blue Jays, Gibbons added, also needed to do some thinking about where he’s going to end up on the field.
“He can probably play anywhere on the field, maybe that’s where his biggest value is,” said Gibbons. “Or maybe he’s a shortstop or second baseman, whatever. If he’s a guy who can play everywhere, it’s hard to find guys like that. They’ll figure all that out.”
Diaz, currently in Florida as he works back from a right ankle sprain, has started running on an anti-gravity treadmill and hitting, making steady progress toward a return. He could be ready relatively soon, long before Troy Tulowitzki, who has also started running on an anti-gravity treadmill while taking groundballs.
The veteran shortstop, recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs on both heels, could progress to live batting practice this week, although his road remains a long and challenging one.
Tulowitzki’s injury opened the revolving door at shortstop, while Randal Grichuk’s right knee sprain and Steve Pearce’s strained left oblique did the same in the outfield. Grichuk is running and doing outfield drills and could be assessed for rehab games later this week while Pearce isn’t yet ready for baseball activities.
Smith jumps in as the extra outfielder now after the Blue Jays decided Alford, another top prospect, wouldn’t get enough reps to continue his development.
“You don’t like change too much, but there’s really nothing you can do about it. I thought Alfie needs to go down and play,” said Gibbons. “He was our right-handed bat in our platoon but in fairness to him and his future, he needs everyday at-bats.”
Smith is a left-handed hitter, which sets up Curtis Granderson to get more at-bats against left-handed pitchers and Gibbons with fewer options to mix and match seeking platoon advantage.
“With Grichuk and Pearce out, that’s what we’re dealing with,” he said.
There’s more roster churn to come, with the Blue Jays uncertain right now if Joe Biagini will start on turn Saturday or not. His inconsistencies as a starter continued Sunday against the Red Sox and he’s a proven reliever, but Gibbons deflected questions about giving him another start.