Blue Jays’ Saunders to start rehab assignment

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

NEW YORK – Michael Saunders is expected to start a rehab assignment with single-A Dunedin on Thursday, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Wednesday, although exactly how long the left-fielder needs is yet to be determined.

The team will have up to 20 days to activate Saunders once he begins the assignment when Dunedin opens up at Clearwater. While the minor-league games he played should speed the process, the Blue Jays plan to be cautious with his surgically repaired left knee.

"That’s definitely helped him," Gibbons said of taking at-bats but not running in minor-league games. "Still, there’s something to getting out there and running around that he needs to do. You want to make sure, too. Sometimes you bring guys back too fast and their timing is off, or they’re not quite 100 percent. Time is on our side now, we’re lucky it happened when it did. We want to make sure he’s good and ready."

Saunders tore the meniscus in his knee in February when he stopped on a practice field soft spot around a sprinkler while chasing a fly ball. Initial assessments had him out until July, but the meniscus couldn’t be repaired and removing it sped the recovery.

He began running on a treadmill last week and has progressed enough to go out on rehab.

"They say when he runs, you’d never know he had a problem," said Gibbons. "That’s good."

The Blue Jays can activate Saunders as soon as this weekend in Baltimore but Gibbons said that would be too early. Saunders has previously stated playing in Monday’s home opener was a rough goal.

Either way, his approaching return would allow the Blue Jays to shift back to 13 position players.

"Definitely could be, yeah," said Gibbons. "We don’t want to stay with eight (relievers)."

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